The noise was louder than anything I’d ever heard before, and I felt Momma’s grip on me tighten as she hugged me to her chest.
It happened again. It sounded like it was coming from above us, in the area that was “off limits” to Momma and me.
Momma looked up at the roof of the playroom as we heard the sounds of angry men.
I could see from her face that she was scared.
“What’s that sound?” I asked, hugging even closer to her.
Momma couldn’t be scared. She was always calm, even when Daddy got really angry with her.
But those loud sounds were even scarier to her than Daddy.
She stood up, and I shivered when her warm body left mine.
“Come with me,” she said in the same tone of voice she used when I did something wrong.
She took my hand and ran across the bright playroom to a tiny closet in the corner.
She wrenched open the door and pushed me inside.
“What’s going on?” I asked, feeling hot water burning my cheeks.
“No matter what happens, I need you to stay here,” Momma said, giving me a sort of look I’d never seen before.
Bang. Bang. I jumped again and started shaking.
Momma held my hand, but I could tell she was shaking too.
The chains Daddy and his friends made her wear were clinking together louder than I’d ever heard.
When I heard that sound, I felt a fire in my belly. All of a sudden, the tears stopped falling down my cheeks.
Whatever was making Momma so scared, I knew I had to be brave.
I nodded my head and felt Momma’s hand on my chest, pushing me deeper into the dark space.
“I love you, my sweet Violet,” she whispered before pressing a piece of paper into my hand.
“I know you can do great things. I’ve seen it in the cards,” she whispered before closing the closet door and plunging me into darkness.
I heard her feet walking away across the playroom, and then the sound of glass smashing. Suddenly, the light under the closet door went out.
I pressed my ear to the door. All I could hear was scared breathing.
Could that really be Momma making those noises?
Clunk. I heard the sound of Daddy’s trapdoor into our playroom opening.
“Hey, Scorp…uh, you’re gonna want to see this,” said a voice.
I shivered. That didn’t sound like Daddy’s friends.
I heard the ladder into the playroom creak and two pairs of boots jump to the ground, then the sound of clinking glass.
Why wasn’t Momma saying anything? What was she doing?
The only voices were the two men, muttering to each other in hushed tones, the clinking sound of glass showing they were coming closer.
“Momma,” I whispered under my breath. Then I remembered the way her chains clinked, and I bit my lip. I wouldn’t cry anymore. I would make her proud.
“Who the hell are you?” one of the men said gruffly, and I knew they must be talking about Momma, because there was nobody else in the playroom.
And then I heard Momma speak, and that was the scariest thing I’d ever heard.
Because she wasn’t the usual strong and smart Momma. She sounded weak, beaten.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” was all she said.
The men muttered amongst themselves again, and then I heard the sound of somebody being dragged along the floor, then heaving as if the men were carrying something heavy up the ladder.
And then… silence.
No more banging.
No more men’s voices.
No more Momma…
After a long time, I reached out and pressed the door of the closet open.
There was glass all over the playroom. The lights on the roof were all shattered. Daddy’s trapdoor was open. But worst of all…Momma was gone.
I reached up to wipe a lone tear from my cheek and felt something rough in my hand.
I remembered the piece of paper Momma had pressed into my hand before closing me into the closet.
Shaking, I opened my hand and smoothed out the paper.
It was a card, one of Momma’s cards she said told her the future.
And on the surface of the card was a symbol I’d never seen before.
A flower intertwined with a blade.
I flipped the last tarot card, and it landed face-up on my bedsheet.
“The Lover,” I said aloud, not surprised at all.
For the last few weeks, every time I’d attempted to decode my fortune, it had come up the same. The Lover.
Great, so I’m supposed to find love soon… That’s likely.
As if on cue, my dad’s drunk voice wafted up the stairs toward me.
“Girl, get down here and make me breakfast. I’ve got a shift soon.”
Sighing, I picked up the card and slid it back into the deck before putting the deck back into the box. I couldn’t help but notice, sadly, the thin line of rot creeping its way up the box’s crease.
This deck was the only heirloom of my mom I’d managed to save.
But I guessed nothing lasted forever.
Sighing, I climbed to my feet and walked to my dresser.
I placed the deck on top of the glass box that held my prized possession: the card my mom slipped into my hand before she shoved me into that closet all those years ago.
I gazed over the fading symbol of the blade with what I now know is a violet coiling around it.
It wasn’t one of the standard tarot cards, which meant my mom must have painted the symbol herself.
But why? Why did she think that particular card would be important for me?
“Violet!” my father barked from downstairs, shaking me from my reverie.
Turning away from my dresser, I walked to the door and trudged down the stairs to the kitchen.
“Took you long enough,” my father quipped as I came into the kitchen.
“Sorry, Dad,” I said as I walked to the stove to start breakfast, trying to disguise my look of disgust at his appearance.
He was in his mid-fifties, his stained wife beater not concealing his extended belly as he lounged in his chair, his legs up on the kitchen table and a cigarette in his mouth.
I threw a few pieces of bacon in a frying pan and poured coffee into a filter.
Supposedly, my father was this badass biker, and yet he depended on his daughter to cook and clean for him. He couldn’t even make his own coffee.
Not that he was actually a real badass. He just wanted everyone to think that.
From what I had been able to gather from the gaps in his self-aggrandizing stories, he’d been with some low-level pledge bikers for the Crows MC thirteen years ago when they’d been raided by their bitter rival: the Vipers.
The Vipers had blown the club to bits and killed every man brave enough to face them.
Clearly, my father wasn’t brave enough. He hid in the bathroom until the shooting was over and came out to find that the Vipers were gone and every one of his sworn brothers had died while he pissed himself like the coward he was.
He came downstairs to find me waiting in the playroom, where Mom had been taken. With nobody left to take care of me and the MC destroyed, he’d been forced to go on the run.
The Crows were finished back home, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other charters he could run to.
Since he’d ridden for the MC, even for only a short while, he would be welcomed into any charter in the country as a brother (so long as he never spilled the beans about how he shit himself when things got real).
He came to Destiny, Oklahoma, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.
We had one bar, one shitty motel, and two rival clubs constantly killing each other over our tiny patch of dirt. It was the stupidest thing in the world.
As if by a twist of fate, the rival club in Destiny was none other than the Oklahoma chapter of the very club that had taken my mom, the Vipers MC.
But no matter how much I asked my father to talk about her, he refused, and if I pushed the issue, I’d usually get a slap across the face as punishment.
So my father had just drunk himself to death for the past thirteen years, waiting for his so-called brothers to realize he was a coward and blaming me for every one of his problems.
I stopped, halfway through cracking an egg over the frying pan. I had totally forgotten…
“What are you smilin’ about, girl?” my father growled, his beady eyes glaring at me through the haze of his cigarette smoke.
“Nothing,” I said quickly, and cracked the egg. But as the egg sizzled across the pan, I felt my heart soar.
Because I’d just remembered that today was my eighteenth birthday.
The bruise looked nasty in the daylight.
No matter how I adjusted my scarf, I couldn’t seem to cover up the dark splotch on the left side of my neck.
I was standing in front of the door, ready to leave for work, but nothing I was doing was covering up my bruise.
It was all my father’s doing, of course. He gave it to me last night, sort of an early birthday present because I’d burned his steak.
Finally, I managed to adjust the collar of my bomber jacket so as to cover the bruise suitably.
I chanced a glance at myself in the mirror. I liked my own appearance. It was the one thing I could actually control about my life.
I had long, dark hair that I wore in a ponytail slung over my left shoulder.
I had a bit of a baby face, and my body wasn’t quite as curvy as some girls, but I didn’t mind.
My favorite things about my reflection, however, were my eyes. They were bright purple and had flecks of gold in the pupils.
People said they almost seemed to glow in the dark.
“Girl, get me a beer,” my father slurred from the living room.
Rolling my eyes, I opened the front door and hurried down the front steps before he could come after me.
I knew that meant I’d probably get another bruise tonight to keep the first one company, but it was worth it.
My small acts of rebellion were the only thing that kept me going, and I considered it a birthday present to myself. I knew I wouldn’t be getting one from anybody else.
The walk from my house to No Man’s Land, the bar where I worked. It took about thirty minutes. I didn’t mind the walk.
My father and I lived in a practical hovel of a house on the outskirts of Destiny, and No Man’s Land was smack dab in the center.
But the walk gave me some time to think. It was time for me, time that couldn’t be polluted by my father or his horrible biker friends.
Eighteen years old, I thought. ~I wish Momma could see me now.~
I felt sadness creep over me at that thought. I wish I could have known her, or at least I wish my father would talk about her from time to time.
The only time he mentioned her was to call her “the meth whore” or that “she’s the Scorpion’s problem now.”
I wished he’d tell me what that meant.
Some days, I thought about stealing his truck and leaving Destiny. Just driving and driving until I ended up at the mother charter.
Maybe then I could find this Scorpion at the Viper’s MC and finally learn who my mother was.
The rumble of an engine behind me pulled me out of my thoughts.
I looked around. The quiet country road had been quite deserted when I left home, but now I saw a white van following behind me.
They were keeping a good distance from me, but I still felt my heart rate increase.
Everybody knew that my father’s club, the Crows, had started trafficking girls to make some extra cash.
Usually, they only came around at night, but recently they’d started being bolder, snatching girls off the street in broad daylight.
I picked up the pace, pulling my jacket tighter around me.
No Man’s Land was just two blocks ahead and to the right.
My stomach clenched when I heard the rumble of the engine grow louder. It was speeding up.
I broke into a light jog. The grumble of the engine turned into a whine behind me.
It was one block to the turn.
I could hear the crunch of gravel behind me. Feel the heat of the car on my heels.
Any moment now, they were going to catch me.
Putting on an extra spurt of speed, I lunged suddenly to the right into the back parking lot of No Man’s Land.
With a screech, the van slammed on its brakes behind me, but I didn’t stop to see if it was turning around.
Like a bat out of hell, I charged through the back door of the bar and skidded to a stop in the kitchen.
I bent over, hands on my knees.
“Holy hell, Vi, you’re heavin’ like the devil himself were after you,” came the heavy Southern twang of Anna, my boss and the bar’s manager.
Catching my breath, I straightened up and looked into her face, framed in flaming red hair. “Maybe he is,” I said with a shrug.
“Har, har,” she chuckled, slapping me playfully on the arm. “By the way, I heard somebody has a birthday today,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows up at me.
I rolled my eyes. “I can neither confirm nor deny that,” I said. “How’s the house today?”
Anna looked over her shoulder through the door into the bar.
“Not too bad yet. The Vipers have the Oklahoma City VP in town today, tweaker by the name of Blade, so that’s got the Crows jumpy.
“Just give ’em enough Coors Lite to drown a horse and remind ’em about the no weapons rule. We’ll be fine,” Anna said, giving me a pat on the shoulder.
Since No Man’s Land was the only bar in town, the two rival clubs had decided it was best to make it a neutral zone. Brothers from both clubs were free to drink here, so long as they left their guns at the door.
It was one of the only places in town where a woman could truly be safe.
Anna wasn’t kidding about the Crows being jumpy tonight.
Over the course of my five-hour shift, I caught no less than six brothers from both clubs who’d secretly brought weapons in.
The bar, which was usually pretty relaxed, was so tense that it felt like a bomb could go off any second.
Damn, this Blade must be quite a character.
Skinner, the VP of the Destiny Crows charter, was scowling over his glass all night at every Viper who walked into the bar.
When I politely asked him to remove his Glock from the bar, he just glared at me.
“Why don’t you leave the thinking to me, girly?” he snarled, looking me up and down.
I felt a shiver run down my spine under his gaze. For some reason, I had a mental image of Skinner being the man in the unmarked van tonight.
Even though I should technically have been protected as the daughter of a Crow’s brother, I’d seen the way Skinner looked at me.
I knew he’d like nothing more than to tear my skirt down the back and have his way with me.
I tried to match his challenging gaze, but his fury was too palpable, and I finally had no choice but to look away.
The end of my shift came and went, but the bikers were still going strong.
Finally, near 1 a.m., Anna finally kicked out the last Viper stragglers, who were exchanging war stories about this mysterious Blade character.
“All right, deary,” Anna said once the bar was blissfully empty, “you scurry on home now.”
I thanked her and shrugged on my jacket before walking out the back door. But the moment I stepped outside, I felt a shiver run down my spine.
The town was deadly quiet. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
Shit, I didn’t realize how late it was.
Pulling my coat closer around me, I started my long trek back home, trying not to imagine the sound of an unmarked van rolling down the street behind me.
Every gust of wind was like the rumble of an engine.
Every snap of a twig was the click of keys in the ignition.
I moved quickly down the darkened street, passing the huge husks of abandoned warehouses. Once, in another lifetime, Destiny had been a huge industrial city. Now it was just full of pathetic bikers trying to relive the glory days.
Click. I was suddenly blinded by the glare of headlights from a side alley between two warehouses.
A quick glance to the left confirmed my worst fears. It was the unmarked van again.
Without hesitating, I broke into a run.
My feet pounded against the ground. I heard the roar of the van’s engine as it peeled out on the street behind me.
My lungs screamed their protest as I pelted down the street.
But I was too far from home. I knew it. I’d never make it in time.
Not when the glare of headlights all around me told me the van was mere feet behind.
Any moment now, they were going to reach me. And then they’d take me.
And I’d end up in chains just like Momma’s.
Then, without warning, the light died. The sound of the van faded.
I stumbled to a halt and looked around.
The van had disappeared. I could hear the rumble of its engine moving away from me along a nearby alleyway.
Why had it left? Were they playing with me? Was this some sort of game?
Suddenly, there was a roar from ahead of me. A motorcycle exploded onto the street ahead of me and skidded to a halt right in front of me.
Sitting astride it was the most attractive man I’d ever seen. Even in all my fear, I could feel something tugging at my core when I looked at him.
He was tall and muscular, with messy black hair and piercing green eyes.
His leather jacket seemed to be on the point of bursting under the strain from his bulging muscles.
“Who…who are you?” I asked, my unease growing, even as I found it difficult to tear my gaze from his chiseled face.
He gave me a stern look, which was cold and calculating, but not angry.
“There’s no time for that,” he said finally. “Get on.”
He gestured to the seat behind him, and I gulped.
What? He wanted me to get on his bike?
What if he was working for Skinner?
What if he was one of the men in the unmarked van?
As if reading my mind, he said, “They’re going to come back any moment. I said get on.”
But under his severe gaze, I felt suddenly defiant.
Who the hell was he to order me around?
Just as I was about to tell him to go to hell and run straight home, I saw something on his bike that took all the wind out of my sails.
There was a symbol painted on the side of his bike.
It was a blade, exactly like the one on the card my mom gave me.
Oh, God… Should I trust this man? Or should I run?
DECIDE YOUR DESTINY
Should Violet get on Blade’s bike or should she run away?
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