GRIT - CHAPTER 1

As I stared at my reflection, I wondered where I fucked up. Deep, green pools of uncertainty, not knowing whether I was coming or going. I was stuck. In time. On a shithole of a planet. With nowhere to run or turn, I went through the motions, passing each day like it was my last. Something was off. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew that I needed…something. Anything to get me out of my head.

A deep groan rumbled through the room, the sound coming from the bed a few feet away. I waited. For it to affect me in some way. For my heart to flutter or skip a beat. My palms to sweat. My stomach to somersault like I heard so many women talking about. Nothing. Not even a wanting need pulling me toward the sound.

I knew going to bed with the guy the night before that he wasn’t the one, but I had hoped for at least some sort of attraction. But he was just a fuck. A good lay. And he wasn’t even that good. My oh my and God, yes were just to amuse him. I didn’t even get an orgasm out of it. The selfish bastard he was, cared about one person: himself.

I glanced over at him again. His tanned back rose and fell with each breath, the ink on his skin becoming more pronounced in the morning sun. God, even his tattoos were lame. Who gets armbands anymore?

What was the guy’s name? Jeff? Alex? Bob? Hell if I knew. He was supposed to be a warm body to satisfy my craving, but that turned to shit when he ignored what I wanted. What I had been itching for.

A soft knock sounded on the door, pulling me from my thoughts. “Yeah?” I called out, stepping into my black, leather pants.

“Jay, the girls are here,” Maxine Stanton, my best friend, said as she glanced in the room. Her gaze passed between me and the guy in the bed, a small sigh leaving her mouth. She shook her head, disappearing down the hall.

“Hey, man.” I kicked the guy’s foot. “Wakey, wakey.”

“Shit. What time is it?” he asked, rolling over onto his back.

For a moment, I allowed my gaze to travel down the length of his hard body. Muscles rippled over his bones. His morning wood jutted forth between his legs, pitching a tent under the white sheet.

“Why don’t you satisfy Mr. Happy before you kick me out of your bed?” He made a point of cupping himself, gyrating his hips for added effect.

I rolled my eyes and threw his clothes on the bed. “Sorry, sweetheart. This was a one-time thing.”

“Why?” He sat up and pulled on his t-shirt.

“Rules.” Little did he know that he wasn’t in my bed. No one slept in my bed except for me. And even then, it wasn’t often. With the shit going on around me, who had time for sleep? I also didn’t fuck a guy again who had a pet name for his dick. How old were we? Ten?

“Jay, come on. Give a little.” The guy pouted. And I mean full-on, bottom lip quivering and sticking out and shit. God. Who the hell had I spent the night with?

“Get out.”

“Oh yeah.” He licked his lips. “Tell me what to do, baby. You know I like it.”

“Ugh. Douche. Get the fuck out.” I threw his boots at him.

“Ow. Shit.” He rose from the bed and finished getting dressed. “Listen. If you ever feel the need to dominate—”

“Get out.” I stabbed a finger toward the door. I was sick of the guys who latched on just because they got between my legs. I was not a conquest, but at times I felt like they had all teamed up, placing bets on who could get me to break first. Well guess what, losers? It wasn’t going to happen.

“You know…” The guy came up to me. “You’re a bitch.”

“Yup. I know.” So original.

“Perhaps if you warmed up a little, you wouldn’t be single,” he grumbled.

I opened the door just as Maxine came into view. She raised an eyebrow, her gaze darting between the guy and me.

“Maybe you should stop trying to get people to change who don’t want to,” I told him.

“Whatever.”

I followed him out into the hallway and gave a little wave.

Before he rounded the corner, he flipped me the bird.

“Jackass,” I muttered.

“You sure know how to pick ‘em.”

My back stiffened at the jab. “Yeah, well, a girl needs a little lovin’ now and again.”

Maxine, in all her feisty glory, threw her head back and laughed. “Right. Because you can’t get it anywhere else. Two hands don’t cut it anymore, do they?”

I hooked an arm around her shoulders and kissed her cheek. “How about four hands?” I asked, waggling my eyebrows.

She elbowed me in the ribs, her laughter deepening. “Please. You’re too fucked up for my taste. Besides, I don’t have what you want.”

Feigning a sigh, even though her words stung, I placed the back of my hand against my forehead. “No one does.”

Max shook her head. “No. You’re just too damn picky.”

Maybe.

“Let’s go.” She clapped her hands together. “Duty calls.”

I groaned. “Great.”

She stopped dead in her tracks, her bright-blue gaze meeting mine. “You good?”

“Yup.” I scrubbed a hand down my face, tapping my cheeks to bring life back into myself. Drinking on a weeknight was not good for the soul or mind. I swore I was losing more brain cells as I got older. Shouldn’t I be done with this shit? I was almost thirty. I needed to get it together. Or find a man who could do it for me. I laughed.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Max’s brows narrowed.

I nodded. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I just wasn’t feeling it. King’s Harlots was my life. My world. My existence. I lived and breathed them. We were the first female motorcycle club in the country. That’s right. An all-woman MC. Born and raised into the lifestyle, I grew up around bikers. Those ladies were my family. My best friends. My sisters.

“Ready?” Max asked when we reached the double set of wooden doors that opened into a large room. She had been asking me if I was okay for the past couple of weeks. Did things change? Did I show all of my feelings on my face? I bit back a scoff. No. I didn’t. I never did. It was the easiest way a person could protect themselves. I should have been born a man. All of those feelings and shit were not for me. Max could see right past my hard exterior. We just never talked about it. She knew not to press or else she would end up with my fist in her face.

“I’m always ready,” I told her.

“Just so you know, we are here for you.” She squeezed my shoulder. “No matter what.”

“I’m fine, Max. Promise.” I took my seat at the head of the long table.

The girls—my girls—filed into the room. They talked amongst themselves. Max, as Vice President, sat to my left.

I cleared my throat, giving them time to settle down. It had been a couple of days since we met last. Thanksgiving had just passed, and I swore I ate a fucking cow.

“Business. What do we have?” I leaned back in the chair, crossing my ankle over the opposite knee.

“I have a showing at the art gallery on Friday night,” Max’s sapphire eyes twinkled. “It’s supposed to be busy. Or, well…I’m hoping it is, anyways.” She was our famous local artist. Growing up in our small town of Greenville, Ohio, there wasn’t much to do whenever you were bored, so she started creating things.

“Are you displaying the piece you’ve been working on for the past couple of months?” Brogan Tapp beamed.

“I am.” Max grinned. “Feels like I’ve been working on that shit for, like, ever.”

I laughed. Max had spent a couple of summers in California and picked up their overuse of the word, ’like’. It was rather annoying, and she did it to drive me insane. That was why I loved her, though.

“Like, I am so excited for you,” I added for effect.

Laughter erupted around the table.

“Shut up.” She pouted, her lips turning up at the corners into a smile.

“All right.” I waited a beat before continuing, knowing the next topic of discussion would be heavy. “Meeka.”

Our quietest member’s eyes bored into mine; she sat furthest from me. Meeka Cline didn’t say anything. She never did. She listened. But her big brown eyes told all. Years of pain. Heartache. We didn’t know her complete story. We just knew there was one.

“How are things underground?”

“I’m getting in,” she muttered. “But my connection isn’t trusting.”

“Understandable.” We had some girls who went missing in our small town a week before and the cops weren’t doing a damn thing about it. The reason: the females were on the lower end of society. No one cared about them. They came from poor families or worse. “What’s your connection saying?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Nothing. I can’t get past the whole me not being a cop ordeal.” She looked down at herself. “Do I look like a cop?”

Several nods and grunts resounded around the table in agreement. We wore leather, shitkickers if we saw fit, and our attitudes on our sleeves. If we were cops, we were fucked up ones. “Anything else?”

Meeka chewed her bottom lip. I knew right then she was hiding something. It was her tell. We all had one. Max would curl her hair in her fingers. When Brogan laughed, it became uncontrollable. And mine? Well, no one had the balls to tell me what mine was.

Being the president, I needed to know what was going down. With my town. My girls. The basic ins and outs of their daily lives. I never expected to know every single detail. It helped. There was such a thing as privacy. It wasn’t like I gave them details of my own life. Not that I had much to hide. I was a pretty straightforward person. Even though I knew Max would love for me to spill every piece of information.

“I’m working through…some stuff.” Meeka’s cheeks reddened.

“All right.” I pointed at her and let my gaze slide around the table, meeting each pair of eyes. “I won’t press, Meeka.” Not yet at least. “But I want you to know that I will find out what’s going on.”

She gripped the arms of the chair. “I know.”

“I’ll leave it alone for now. Second thing. Something’s not sitting right with me.” And it wasn’t the alcohol that I had consumed the night before. I gave myself a shake. “I don’t want any of you alone when you’re out in public. You go to take a piss, bring one of us with you.”

“What’s going on?” Brogan frowned, crossing her arms under her full chest.

That was just it. I had no idea what was going on. How would I tell the girls that without sounding like a loon? “I don’t know.” Well, honesty would have to work. The women going missing and the law not doing a damn thing about it was rubbing me the wrong way.

“Are you worried, Prez?” Meeka sat forward, her brows narrowing.

Was I? Not for us. But the men that tried to shake up the tiny town that we lived in should have been. Being an all-woman MC had its hard times and good times. No one took us seriously because instead of having a dick, we had pussies and having a vagina made you weak. As-fucking-if.

“I’m concerned for the well-being of these women.” Who knew what was being done to them? “Any word on the street of their ages?”

Brogan hesitated. “They range from ages twelve to eighteen.”

“What the fuck?” I yelled, my heart pumping. “You’re telling me these women are just girls? Why the hell didn’t I know about this? Fuck me.” They were just girls. Someone’s daughter. Sister. Baby. God, the people who took them should be shot and pissed on.

Squeezing the bridge of my nose, I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. Images forced their way into my mind.

Her. So many years ago. Blue eyes. So bright. Shining. They twinkled. I would have given anything to see them again. To tell her that I loved her. That I had missed her—every single damn day of my life.

“Jay?” Max touched my arm. “Are you all right?”

I jumped at the soft contact, pulling my arm back. “I’m fine. Just…tell me more.”

Meeka hesitated before continuing. “Well…” She took a breath. “I’m in the works with some people.”

“Who?” I asked when she didn’t give any more information. “Meeka.”

Her back stiffened. “I… The FBI.”

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

“Why, Meeka?”

The girls badgered her with question after question, but I didn’t say anything. Our eyes locked. I knew she was waiting for me to explode. I had been known to be a bit of a hothead. Under normal circumstances, it could have been the case but I knew Meeka—she didn’t make rash decisions without thinking it through. Something was getting to her. If she wouldn’t say with the girls around, then I would get her to tell just me.

“Girls, stop,” I barked.

They silenced, mumbling to themselves. I knew where they were coming from but I had to remain calm. Meeka had a reason for what she was doing. Whether she was in trouble or helping us find the girls on her own—whatever help she could provide—I would take it.

“Why do you feel the need to work with the FBI?” I braced myself for the response being that it had to do with a man.

She shrugged. “They approached me.”

“Approached you. What the hell are you talking about, Meeka?” Although we were part of a motorcycle club, we were still human beings. Meeka was shy. If it meant spending my last breath, I would make her open up or find her a man who could do just that. It would not surprise me if she was still a virgin. Tangent, Jay.

“I…” Her breath caught, her shoulders slumping. “I want to help. I want to find these girls just like the rest of you, and this is the way I know how.”

“Can you all give us a moment?” When the girls didn’t move, I knuckle rapped the table. “Now. Please.”

They huffed, grumbling to themselves, and left us alone.

Max hung back.

“Max.” I nudged her out of her chair. “Go.”

“Are you kidding me right now?”

“No. Now get. Shoo.” I smacked her on the ass, trying to get her to hustle out of there, but she took her sweet ol’ time.

When she reached the door, she opened her mouth to say something but sighed instead.

Once Meeka and I were alone, I moved to sit beside her and grabbed her hand. I tried pouring my strength into that small touch. It wasn’t much, but I wanted her to know that whatever she was doing, whatever was going on in her world, I was there for her. The King’s Harlots were there. For her. We were one, and it would always be that way no matter what.

“Jay, please don’t make me say anything.” Her chin quivered. “I can’t. Not yet.”

“Just tell me this.” My heart raced. “Are you in trouble? Do I need to kill someone for you? Rip off a dick or two?”

She laughed, wiping away the single tear rolling down her cheek. “I just have some stuff going on, and I don’t want to involve the club just yet. I’m not trying to keep anything from you, but for your protection, I need you to leave it alone for right now. Please.”

Everything in me told me to press. That little voice inside of me told me to demand for her to give me answers. But the solemn look on her face proved she had been defeated. By what or who, I wasn’t sure. “Fine. I’ll let go of it for now, Meeka, but if any of us gets hurt by your lack of information, I will do more than remove your patch.” I released her and headed to the large bay window overlooking the group of motorcycles we rode.

“I understand,” she whispered.

“Tell the other girls they can come back in.”

“Okay,” she said to my back. “Are we good?”

“Yup.” Just fucking dandy. I loved Meeka, but I loved the club more.

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