Nancy Haviland
Loyalties will be tested. Secrets will be told. Mob justice will be served.

WHAT’S NEW

After years of solitude, Tish O’Malley made the mistake of assuming happiness was finally hers. But before she can relax her guard and enjoy her protective—albeit secretive—Sergeant at Arms, another selfish choice made by her unconscionable drug-addict mother brings about deadly consequences. With Rachel conveniently tucked away behind bars, her massive debt is laid at Tish’s feet.

Josh “The Guardian” Sylvan knew when he claimed his young queen, her well-being would become his life’s purpose. When her mother’s senseless idiocy brings his estranged father’s notorious club to town, to protect Tish, Josh must consider taking out a member of the Obsidian Devils MC. Can he risk it all? Jeopardize his brothers and their families as they stand at his back, preparing to fight this personal battle?

Everything changes when Josh discovers his and Tish’s love has produced the one thing that will bind her to his side forever. Only then does indecision flee, and possessive rage takes over.

**Blind Faith can be read as a standalone, but reading Blind Devotion (book 1) is highly recommended as it features the same couple.

PROLOGUE

Nine-year-old Josh Sylvan ran down his driveway and slammed into the house. He and his dad had big plans today, and he was excited to get started.

The recliner was empty, so he went through to the kitchen. Before he’d left for school this morning, his dad had promised they’d go to the salvage yard before it got dark. Josh was getting good at finding just the thing for the projects he’d taken on lately. He’d found an old fan last week and had painted the slats all different colors so that when he turned it on, it blew out a rainbow. He thought his mom would like that, and she had. He was proud that he was becoming so handy. Like his dad, he had a talent for creating something from nothing, and for weeks, they’d been talking about building a go-kart. Well, Josh had been talking, his dad grunted and nodded a lot. But he was listening. Josh knew it.

Entering the kitchen, he came up short when he saw his mom sitting at the table with her head in her hands. She cried a lot. He did what he could to cheer her up, but it never seemed to help. She always said thanks, but even she admitted there wasn’t much that could make the darkness she felt inside go away. He heard her on the phone with the other old ladies, talking about something she called depressing. Or was it depression? He always got them confused.

“Mom?”

When she raised her head, something flipped in his belly. There was nothing new about her red, puffy eyes, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen so much sadness in them before.

He inched forward, unsure if she’d want him to try to comfort her. “What happened?”

She put her arms out, and he immediately moved in to hold her like he knew she liked, with his arms around her shoulders and his hand on her hair.

“Is Elli okay?” he asked even though the question made it feel like something with sharp claws was crawling up the middle of his back. His little sister was his fairy. She was two and was such a tiny thing Josh just knew she needed him to take care of her all the time. He loved that job.

“Daddy’s gone, Joshy.”

“Gone where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh.” He shrugged off his disappointment. It wasn’t the first time their plans had been put off. “That’s okay. We can go later. Or maybe I can take the shopping cart and go to the yard to get what we need by myself. I’m getting real handy at that. Dad says I have a good eye. He said that a couple of times now. When will he be home?”

She started crying again. “He isn’t coming home.”

The disappointment that hit him then made him want to cry, too. He didn’t though. “He got a job?” His dad sometimes went to work out of town with a couple of his brothers. One of the guys in the motorcycle club he belonged to had a friend somewhere up north, and a few of them would drive truck when help was needed. One time, his dad had left for four months.

“No, Joshy. He d-didn’t get a job. Not this t-time.”

As his mom’s arms tightened around his waist, he automatically petted her soft hair that was dark blond like his. Elli had gotten their dad’s light blond hair. “It’s okay, Mom,” he murmured, trying to think where his dad could have gone if it wasn’t to work. “I don’t know what else to guess. Can you tell me where he went?”

“I don’t know,” she repeated after hiccupping.

“Okay. When will he be home?”

“He won’t be.”

As the sound of Elli waking from her afternoon nap and quietly jabbering to herself started up through the monitor, Josh’s body didn’t know which way to go. His heart got that happy, anxious-to-see-his-angel feeling and he wanted to run to her room to pick her up from her crib and give her cuddles. But because of his and his mom’s conversation, something was coming up his throat. It was making him feel like he was choking.

“He won’t? Why?”

“He didn’t want to be here with us anymore.”

Josh gave in. Water pushed into his eyes as grief and disbelief swallowed him.

That disbelief lasted for months, and those months eventually turned into years. He waited and waited, running home from school almost every day, waking early in the mornings, leaving his bedroom door open all the time, keeping his ears peeled for the sound of a Harley coming down their street. Every new day carried the expectation that he’d see his dad sitting in his chair, or in the doorway wiping his greasy hands on a rag, or riding down the street and pulling into their driveway with a smile on his face and a gift under his arm to say sorry for being gone for so long.

But his dad never returned.

It wasn’t until Josh was almost fourteen that he fully accepted he was now, and forever would be, the man of their house. By then, he was totally comfortable in the role that claimed most of his time outside of school. He took care of his mom and sister, ran the household, paid the bills, and did whatever repairs were necessary. He fixed motorcycles to bring in extra money and even did all the grocery shopping. When his mom could, she worked at the local Walmart, but with her depression, she sometimes wasn’t well enough to be out in public. But that was okay because Josh happily fixed more bikes and felt more pride knowing the helpless females he was responsible for were thriving under his care. His mom tried hard to get better, and he appreciated that as much as she appreciated him. She often gave him despondent hugs and grateful words that he really didn’t need but liked hearing anyway.

Elli, on the other hand, was the opposite of their mom. At eight years old, she was never any trouble and was always happy, no matter what was going on in their lives. When the Christmas tree only had the presents Josh was able to make from his frequent trips to his favorite area of the salvage yard, those smiling gold eyes never dulled. She’d get a homemade climbing wall and be as happy as her friends who’d woken to brand new bicycles. Her favorite gift this past Christmas had been a variety of different sized beakers and test tubes Josh had scrounged for for months. He’d completed the science set by putting simple household items in clear squeeze bottles so she could make “potions.” She was going to be a chemist one day. He would never tell her the powder was only baking soda, and the liquid was vinegar he’d tinted with food coloring so they would look pretty for her. But he did insist she didn’t do any experiments unless he was with her.

Another year passed before Josh was given a refresher on exactly how unfair life could be. It was a lesson he would never again forget.

He was walking home from school two days before his fifteenth birthday, debating whether to make Italian sausage and broccoli or macaroni and cheese for dinner. Maybe he’d do the macaroni since it was Elli’s favorite and she’d stayed home today. That morning, his mom had mumbled something about a fever, but when Josh had felt his sister’s forehead as she’d bounced around on the sofa, excited that she was getting a day off, he hadn’t noticed any heightened temperature. He’d said so, but his mom had insisted, and because she’d been feeling down lately, he’d let it go. She’d probably wanted Elli’s sunshine around for the day. He couldn’t blame her.

A niggling feeling crawled up the back of his neck again, making him frown. He’d been feeling it all afternoon. It was as if he’d forgotten something, like the stove on or a package of meat on the counter when he should have put it in the fridge.

“Hey, Josh.”

He looked up to see the owner of the variety store on the corner sweeping some cobwebs away from his Open sign.

“Hey, Mr. Harrison. Hot one today,” he commented as he once again pushed the unsettling feeling away and wiped the sweat from his brow. Maybe he’d take Elli for a bike ride before making supper. They could go to the river behind their house and take a dip.

“Heard sirens and saw some cherries head down your street. Hope it was a false alarm.”

Josh skidded to a stop, his full attention centering on the older man. “Cherries? Were they cops? Firetrucks?” The hopeful note in his voice came out in a croak.

“Nope. A couple of ambulances.”

It was at a dead run that Josh raced the rest of the way home. The second he rounded that corner and saw the two white vehicles with flashing lights in his driveway he shouted a denial.

“No, no, no, no, no…” he continued to moan as he roughly pushed through the people standing around. A cop grabbed his arm when he burst through the open front door of his house.

“Hey, son. Sorry, but you can’t—”

“This is my place! My mom! My sister! Where are they? Are they okay? What did she do? Oh, what did she do?” he moaned as his eyes started to burn.

“You must be Josh,” the cop said as he physically shoved him back out the door and into the backyard. It was quite a job seeing as Elli had marked Josh at five-feet-ten on the door jamb a couple of months ago. “My partner went to the school, but you’d already left.”

“Where’s Elli? Are they hurt? Tell me!” he shouted.

But the cop didn’t tell him. He waved at another cop. “Get Monique out here!” he called, and within seconds, a tall black woman was hurrying over.

“Josh, this is Monique. She’s a crisis management—”

Josh cut off the introduction. Who gave a fuck what this chick did for a living? “Tell me what happened,” he said, injecting a firm note in his already deep voice. “Stop all this fucking around and give it to me straight.”

The two adults exchanged surprised looks, and after the guy shrugged, Monique ruined his life.

“It appears your mother committed suicide, Josh. And she took your sister with her.”

An earthquake started rumbling in his gut and spread out toward his limbs. “What do you mean she took Elli?”

The woman sighed. “Can we go over there and sit?” She was motioning to the picnic table he’d stained last month.

“No. Tell me what she did. In English. Don’t try to make it pretty to save my feelings.” The thoughts in his head were scrambling, whipping into a frenzy. He wanted to cry, scream, rage, but he also wanted to fall to the ground and just give the fuck up right then. Instead, he held himself still and tall while he listened.

“Your mom poisoned your sister and herself. From what we can tell from the evidence, she crushed some sleeping pills and mixed the sedative into some macaroni and cheese. The coroner thinks they ingested it sometime in the morning and passed, likely due to respiratory or heart failure, at approximately two p.m.”

Agony stole his ability to breathe, and the adrenaline suddenly slamming through his system was like needles puncturing his hands and feet. “How did you people get here?”

He could tell the woman didn’t want to say anymore but, unfortunately, she did. “Your mother must have regretted her actions and tried to get help by calling 911. But they were gone when the EMS arrived. There was nothing that could be done at that point.”

“I should’ve been here.” His tongue was numb, he noted in a distant part of his mind.

“Pardon?”

“Where are they? Where’s Elli?”

“They’re in the ambul—”

He walked away. Going into the one ambulance, with Monique waving the EMS guy aside when he would have blocked the way, Josh drew the sheet back and sat there staring at his mom’s still form. He knew he should be crying but he couldn’t. There was too much happening inside him.

“Why did you take her from me? You leaving I would have understood. But I don’t get why you took our angel and left me all alone. Why would you do that?”

Sheets of ice began to layer over his heart, and he suddenly had the oddest urge to laugh. She looked so peaceful. For the first time in his life, he was seeing his mom at ease.

He bent and kissed her forehead, petting her hair in that way she’d always liked. Even though he hated her, he’d miss her. “Bye, Mama. I hope you and Elli are together because it would be a shame if you did this to me for nothing.”

He jumped out of the ambulance and had to force himself to go to the other one and climb into the back. He kept his eyes on the floor as he sat, and then squeezed them shut before reaching out to grasp his sister’s small, cold hand. He moaned a little.

“I’m so sorry I went to school, Elli-Bell. I knew you weren’t sick. I knew it, and I didn’t listen to myself and bring you with me like I knew I should have. I should have listened to myself. I should have stayed home with you. If I’d been here, this wouldn’t have happened. You were my responsibility, and—” His throat closed up, and he forced a hard cough to open it so he could finish his goodbye. “I could have stopped her. I could have talked her out of doing this to you. Were you scared? Did you cry? Did you call out for me? I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry. Did mom say she was sorry? Did she? Did she say why she was leaving me alone? Did she? Why did she take you guys away from me? You were my responsibility! I should have been here!”

It wasn’t until he felt two sets of hands grabbing at him that he opened his eyes and realized he was hugging his sister’s dead body and shouting. He relaxed his grip immediately but didn’t allow the cop and EMS worker to take him out of the ambulance until he’d gently laid Elli down and pressed a final kiss to her forehead.

“I’ll see you again, Elli-Bell,” he whispered. “And I’ll protect you with my life next time. I will, okay? I’ll watch over you, and I’ll never let anyone hurt you. That’s my promise to you.”

He shook off the hands still on him and shoved his way out of the ambulance. He met the eyes of every person staring his way, owning his failure, taking responsibility for what he’d done.

That’s when his heart solidified, and rage engulfed him, the helpless feeling unlike anything he’d ever felt before. Without a word to anyone, he went over to the side of the house where his bike was leaning on the worn siding. He ignored the calls for him to wait, jumped on his ride, and he left.

He rode and rode and rode, and he didn’t stop until the sun had gone down twice, and only then did he take a break because he needed to hit up a grocery store. He was dizzy from starvation. He was exhausted. He’d urinated in his jeans, and he had to wash himself. But the only need he was able to meet was to find food.

For the first time in his life, Josh stole something. That it was something he needed to survive made no difference, he was wracked with guilt, and ended up vomiting the potato salad on the sidewalk as he rode away. The next time was easier, and the time after that even easier. For the next few years, he survived on the streets in places that were nothing like Portland. In Sacramento and San Francisco, he poached what he needed. In Fresno, Bakersfield, and L.A., he fought, many times for the benefit of others, sleeping anywhere he wouldn’t get jumped while vulnerable—though, there were a few nights when he wouldn’t have minded being taken out. By the time he went from Anaheim to San Diego and started moving east, he’d gotten bigger, so guys didn’t often engage him. Those who did, he took care of and was happy for the opportunity to let out the buildup of aggression that now lived within him.

It was in a small town near the California/Arizona state line where Josh once again stepped into the fray, pissed because nothing was more infuriating to him than seeing an unfair fight. Some kid in a cut was getting his ass kicked by three guys wearing different colors. Having the element of surprise, Josh efficiently smashed a couple of heads together and drilled his fist into the temple of the third. Bringing the bleeding kid into the bar, Josh was introduced to Ted Samson, the kid’s sponsor. Ted was a member of the Steel Jackals MC and their Sergeant at Arms. A few hours spent with the loud group, and too many illegal beers later—he was only eighteen—Josh found himself on the back of Ted’s bike heading into the dessert. And like his father before him, he was drawn into the MC life. He didn’t embrace it but kept himself closed off, choosing to respect and like his new brothers rather than love and need any of them.

Until Nick “Irish” O’Malley made a crack in Josh defenses. Nick, who was younger than Josh by a few years, was different. He was a listener. Didn’t try hard. And he was amusing as fuck. Which eventually earned him the label of “best friend,” though, Josh never voiced it for fear he might one day be punished for daring to claim one.

It was through Nick, on a random Saturday afternoon when Josh was twenty-eight, that the powers that be finally handed him a lifeline.

Parking his bike at the end of the row of chrome and steel outside the clubhouse in Queen Creek, Arizona, Josh kicked out the stand and stood, his focus on a skinny blonde scurrying behind a John Deere tractor their Road Captain was fixing for a local farmer.

“Nick around?” she asked, pausing before passing Josh by.

He narrowed his eyes. “Rachel?”

“Hey, Josh.” She lifted a stick-like arm in a haphazard wave. “Nick around?”

Blown away by how different Nick’s stepsister looked compared to the last time he’d seen her, which had to have been when he’d first arrived in town, he pointed to the clubhouse. “Probably inside. Come on.” He led the way and brought the haggard girl to her brother.

“What the hell are you doing here, Rach?” Nick asked rudely when they reached the pool table where he’d been lining up a shot. He didn’t appear surprised, so he must have known she was back from Phoenix.

“I need some money. Can you lend me a few bills?”

Josh watched Nick look behind her while he grudgingly pulled a few twenties from his pocket and handed them over. Josh got the reluctance to bankroll her since it was clear the girl was a junkie. When Nick’s mouth tightened, and he looked toward the door again, Josh’s instincts started making noise.

“Where’s the kid?”

Rachel shrugged. “At home. Thanks.” She gripped the money and spun away, heading for the door.

“Hey!”

She stopped short, and turned at her older brother’s bark. A few of the other girls hanging out with their boys looked over, too.

“At home with who?” Nick asked.

She shrugged again. “No one. She’s good. Honest. I gotta go.” Without meeting his eyes, she wheeled away and practically ran out.

“What kid?” Josh demanded when Nick grabbed a pen off the bar and shoved Josh’s sleeve up. It took his boy a second to find a clear patch of skin, but when he did, he wrote out an addy.

“Get over there and sit with Rachel’s daughter. I have to be at a meeting in Florence in an hour, or I’d go myself. I’ll come by and take over when I get back.”

“How old is the girl?” Josh threw over his shoulder, already heading for the door. Nick was the only one out of the boys who knew about Elli. Josh had mumbled the story one night after they’d polished off a forty of JD. He didn’t regret sharing.

“Her name is Tish, and she just turned ten.”

Josh boots stuck to the floor as he skidded to a stop. “Ten? Ten? And your fuckin’ sister left her by herself?” He hauled ass to his bike and was pulling into an empty spot in the low-rental apartment complex less than ten minutes later.

His skin nearly crawled off his body when he knocked and heard the lock being thrown. The door opened without so much as a who’s there.

Everything inside him stilled as a small blonde angel with big blue eyes that glittered like sapphires stood there staring up at him. For the second time in his life, Josh’s heart was lost.

Without a word exchanged, ten-year-old Tish O’Malley, a little slip of a thing who studied him through the eyes of an adult, wormed her way in and filled the hollow part of his soul that hadn’t stopped radiating pain since that social worker had broken him. As Josh stood in the threadbare hallway, peace settled over him, and the relief that came with it was staggering and addictive, and something he would hoard because he was so goddamn grateful for it.

Over the next few years, he supplied his Tish-Tosh with whatever she needed. If she was sad, he was her clown. If she was lonely, he was her playmate. If she was upset, he was her shoulder to cry on. If she got cocky, he put the hammer down. Whatever she needed, he happily provided, and once more Josh thrived in the role of big brother.

Until, little by little, to his utter horror, his feelings for his charge began to change. He wasn’t sure when his interest in fucking other girls left him, but it did. He wasn’t sure when he started turning chicks down and passing when Nick invited him to help wear out a brave one willing to take them both on, but he did. The urge to chase, conquer and triumph eventually petered out entirely, and was replaced by the need to be available for Tish twenty-four-seven.

When he had the time—he usually made the time—he liked to be at the curb outside her high school, waiting to give her a ride home. The first time he noticed a group of boys stop talking to watch his angel walk by, her long blonde hair swinging, eyes twinkling because she’d spotted him, the vicious urge to snap the fuckers’ necks had come out of nowhere. Josh had tried to write it off as a protective instinct, but later, had found himself studying Tish across the table when he’d stopped to feed her before continuing home so he could help her with her homework—not that she needed much help because she was brilliant. That was the first time he’d seen what those horny juniors saw, and it made him sick.

He didn’t want to know his sixteen-year-old charge was growing up. She was supposed to forever remain an innocent young girl in need of a protector. She wasn’t supposed to transform into a beautiful young woman looking at the things around her through new eyes. But that’s exactly what she did, and Josh couldn’t have felt dirtier for noticing.

And it only got worse when those baby blues landed on him. Tish’s behavior started to change. Out went the childish devotion and adolescent hero worship, and in came a shy, burgeoning desire. Out went playful hugs and hair ruffles, and in came kisses on the cheek that lasted a little too long and small touches to the back of his hand for no good reason. The blushes that rose up her slender neck to settle into those flawless cheeks when he’d catch her staring at him became something he dreaded seeing.

It was wrong. Wrong of her to see him as a man. And brutally wrong of him to see her as anything other than his best friend’s niece. An adorable obligation. The young girl he’d taken under his wing because the first one he’d had was gone.

But wrong or not, their new awareness of each other continued to grow. So, when an opportunity to step back presented itself, against his every instinct to leave her unprotected…Josh took it.

He once more left his heart behind, this time by going to prison for a crime he hadn’t committed. Taking responsibility for Tish’s mom’s drugs and being handed a five-year sentence forced him to do something he wouldn’t have done on his own; leave Tish to grow up and find someone more worthy of the adoration he saw in her eyes whenever she looked at him. He wasn’t the man he could have been, and she deserved better than who he’d become.

Little did Josh know how beautifully loyal his angel would be. He had no idea that in Tish’s mind she’d already committed, so it was with a bone-rattling shock that he came home early to an offer he had no hope of walking away from. And like a selfish, greedy motherfucker, Josh the Guardian Sylvan did the unthinkable.

He claimed a girl eighteen years his junior as his old lady. His young queen.

Now? All he had to do was protect her like one.

ONE

The hardest part about love for Josh? Learning to live with the weakness he felt for needing it in his life.

Even knowing the agony that would come from losing it, the yearning to give in and take what he needed, who he needed, had proven to be too much.

Double-locking the door as he left the house, he momentarily set aside his self-disgust to do something people took for granted every fuckin’ day. He stood in front of the garage and breathed the dry air. Locking the faint scent of creosote into his lungs, he looked up at the sun already beating down and smiled. If he was able to put aside the head full of shit he was dealing with, he’d have been goddamn happy at that moment.

He’d been out of prison four measly days, and already he’d moved on. But he’d never forget his time spent in that cell. Thanks to fuckin’ Rachel and her crank. He valued that junkie for one reason only. The gift she’d given him in the form of her daughter, who was currently asleep in his bed.

Tish O’Malley.

Despite being born to a woman who’d been more interested in chasing the dragon than raising her kid, Tish was the polar opposite of a lying freeloader looking out for number one. She’d raised herself to be an honest, generous woman who trusted too readily and loved too hard.

She was the reason Josh’s fuckin’ heart beat. For him, claiming her would be a windfall. For her, not so much.

With a final look at the cloudless sky, he got his ass moving and rolled his Harley out of the garage and onto the road so he wouldn’t wake Tish when he started the engine. He didn’t worry about the neighbors, mainly because there was a fair amount of space between the houses and he wasn’t about to break a sweat hoofing it for their sake. Though because it wasn’t yet seven, he merely tickled the throttle to get out of the area.

Would Tish wake before he returned? He should have left her a note. Shit.

He slowed and considered turning back, but then pushed on because he needed to clear his head before he ruined her morning with this mood. Since waking, he’d been entertaining the idea of finding some chains in the garage and locking her away in the basement for-fucking-ever. Not much could happen to her there. She’d be safe, and fully accessible to him. To do with as he pleased. And, man, did he want to please himself. Repeatedly. In every way there was.

Until he got results.

Had she sensed his urgency last night when he’d told her he was at a point in his life where he felt a desperate need to breed his woman? Mmm. Every time he’d looked at her body, every time he’d touched her, every time she’d smiled at him, he’d been desperate to do it. To get inside her. To fill her. To ultimately bind her to his side.

With a baby.

And not just one. He wanted her surrounded by his brood. He wanted her truly trapped and dependent on him.

He groaned, wondering if she knew the true asshole she’d given herself to. He’d told her he’d jerked off this past weekend to thoughts of her. What would she think if he admitted he’d come hardest when imagining her tight little body with a round belly and heavy breasts? Christ, that girl was going to be the mother of the century. He knew it. Wanted it so hard it was a sickness in his fuckin’ blood.

“You’re a fuckin’ idiot,” he muttered to himself as he pulled onto the main vein leading out of town and ripped the throttle open. Long stretch of road. Wide-open flat land as far as the eye could see. August sun beating the hell out of his back. The odd bug stinging as it collided with his cheek or lip.

Fucking. Heaven.

Or it would have been if guilt wasn’t sitting like a rock on his chest. Here he was, planning how best to nail down his beauty, while issues that could make all of this blow up in his fuckin’ face sat in the shadows, waiting to be dealt with. Tish wasn’t going to be impressed when she found out he’d lied to her last night. He’d claimed her, roughly and greedily stamping his ownership all over her warm, welcoming body—fuuuck—then he’d lied through his fuckin’ teeth. Didn’t matter that it was by omission. He hadn’t been honest, and that was gonna hurt.

She’d specifically asked how he’d managed to get out of a five-year sentence after only having done three years, and he’d blown her off when he should have told her he’d swapped places with her mother. The crime had been Rachel’s, and Nick had somehow gotten his stepsister to take responsibility for it, so Josh was out, and Rachel was in. His confession would have been over in a few sentences. Easy. Not that the process of getting him home had been quick or easy. It had taken almost eighteen months from beginning to end. But it had been worth it. He was a free man who now owed his VP the next two years of his life. Though, Nick, who’d been relentless in his efforts to make things right, felt different. He now saw them as even because he’d felt responsible for Josh going down in the first place.

As he squinted into the wind and cut his speed because he was coming up on an eighteen-wheeler, Josh knew he could get out of this one by throwing his weight around. He could play the I-tell-you-shit-when-I-wanna-tell-you-shit card with Tish, but did he want to start that this early on?

Because Tish had been immersed in club life from the time she was ten, she knew an old lady’s role much of the time was to bow down to her old man’s wishes. Problem was, Josh had made damn sure to shelter her from anything—blatant disrespect, abuse—that might have turned her off. Last thing he’d wanted was for her to walk away at some point, thinking things would be better elsewhere. Life was different when you were a part of a brotherhood like the Steel Jackals. Josh and his boys were a family with ties stronger than blood. Loyalty reigned, and one couldn’t possibly appreciate it unless they were a part of it. There was a hierarchy to keep order, and no one fucked with their rules unless you wanted out on a permanent level. A chain of command was also present in the private homes of their members, and he could say with complete certainty, behind many of those doors, the women were not the ones sitting on the throne.

Josh slowed enough to do a U-turn in the middle of the road. His young queen. Was the throne in their home going to be hers? He had a sinking suspicion that much of the time, yeah, it would be because he wanted that girl happy. He wanted contentment oozing from her very pores.

But he also wanted her safe and protected, which meant denying her the freedom she’d gotten used to while he’d been away.

He headed home with his nape tightening along with his gut because the need to be standing over her with a loaded gun at his side was now a necessity. Christ, who’d have thought his weakness for this girl would be what poised the hammer above the last nail in his coffin? If something happened to her on his watch, it would be his end game. He knew it without a doubt.

Trying to control his desire to ignore the posted speed limit, Josh focused on the vibration between his legs. He concentrated on the wind blowing in his face and the whistle of it in his ears. Once Tish was awake, he’d take her to the salvage yard he and Nick owned. Because it was on the outskirts of town, he’d be able to get in more road time. Only his sweet little bitch would be hugging up to his back. He’d had her there countless times before, but not as his…

Josh craned his neck and took a look between his legs as he neared the house. He even went so far as to reach down to give his balls a squeeze to make sure they were still where they ought to be.

Killing the engine, he silently rolled up the drive and came to a stop in front of the garage. Leaving the bike there, he unlocked, making sure to keep quiet—

Seeing his Tish standing on the other side of the kitchen was like getting kicked in the stomach. The air left his lungs in a quiet whoosh as he ate up the sight of her sleep-mussed waist-length hair, drowsy sapphire eyes, and that prime body covered in nothing but the black T-shirt he’d had on last night. It was so big on her smaller frame that the neckline had slipped down to expose her shoulder and half her arm. He blinked, and wondered why it almost hurt to look at her.

“Hey, uh,” she cleared the just-woke-up huskiness from her throat as she slid her cell onto the counter behind her. “Good morning.”

She was life, he thought. His life.

He watched her smooth down his shirt, the motion highlighting the fact that her hands were shaking. His gaze flipped up to meet hers. She looked away, blinking rapidly.

“Morning.” His tone was careful as he tried to figure her out around his disappointment. No kiss? He was fuckin’ crushed.

She cleared her throat again as she finger-combed her hair. When the graceful digits kept getting stuck, she quickly twisted the silky mass and anchored it on the top of her head with one of the ties she always wore around her wrist.

“Would you like some coffee?”

He closed the door and stepped to the side to lean his back against the wall as he narrowed his eyes on her. “Sure.”

She set about making a fresh pot of brew. Did she not want to kiss him good morning? And could her legs be any more beautiful?

“Are you hungry? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure what you’re used to in the mornings anymore. If you don’t mind talking about it, maybe you can fill me in on what time you normally eat. I usually grab something when I feel hungry but having a schedule again will be nice. I hate sitting alone at the table, so I eat in front of the TV. Oh, and if you could also let me know if any of your favorites have changed, I’d appreciate that. I wouldn’t want to make a big batch of spaghetti sauce only to learn you don’t like it anymore. I guess I could bring it to the guys, but—”

“Tish?”

The spoon she was using to scoop up the coffee grounds clattered to the counter. That’s when a grin spread over his face as he realized what was happening here. His innocent woman was suffering through the awkward stage of her first morning after. How fuckin’ hot was that?

“Yeah?” She quickly finished her task and put the lid back on the coffee container before pushing it aside. He heard the click of the brewer when she turned it on, and then she came around to face him. She was blushing. “I’m nervous. It’s, uh, light out now, and you, um, weren’t here when I woke up—I got scared. And, well, we had some pretty dirty sex last night, and I’ve never had to see anyone after—” Her cheeks flamed as she glanced at his hardening dick. “—doing what we did because you were my first. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to act. Should I come over there and kiss you like I’m dying to do? Or would you rather I played it casual and didn’t get all clingy. Like I’m really dying to do, Josh.”

His boots thudded on the floor as he closed the distance between them. “Clingy sounds about right.”

He caught her when she flew into his arms. Her hands tangled in his hair and her mouth was on his in the next second. The wet and wild good morning kiss was something he could get used to. Her lips were soft and warm, and she tasted of toothpaste. The hug was a full body rub that had him groaning like an adolescent feeling tits on his chest for the first time.

“For a second, when I woke up in the wrong room and didn’t see you or your clothes, I thought I’d had some sort of episode last night. But then I found your T-shirt and went to the bathroom and, uh, yeah, I didn’t imagine you. I’m so happy for that.” She was tipping her head this way and that, kissing him at different angles, teasing him with light pecks in between her words. Then she shocked the hell out of him by catching his mouth and delivering a deep, erotic kiss that had his cock trying like hell to rip its way out of his jeans.

Can’t buddy, he told it, even his head voice sounding sulky. We went too hard on her last night.

Her reference to using the bathroom had to mean her beautiful pussy was sore. Her body wouldn’t be, though, so he freely ran his hands all over his property. Sue him. He was a horny ex-con fresh out of fuckin’ jail. He had the freedom to maul his nineteen-year-old lover; he was fuckin’ mauling.

He gave her tongue a final suck then cut the connection before doing something insensitive. “Why would you worry that I was gone first thing? You forget I like to ride early?”

“No. I was just scared, that’s all.” She licked him off her lips.

His dick throbbed. “You’re fuckin’ looped if you think I could leave you now,” he murmured. “Christ, you feel good. I swear I could come from touching you alone— Sorry,” he said, grimacing when she drew back to see him better. He released her plump breast. “I’m being a guy. I should be telling you what it feels like to see you standing here in my house, to be able to hold you and talk to you, but all I’m about is how fuckin’ fine your body is. I wanted to wake you up with my tongue in your pussy, but I figured you’d need a day so I rode instead.” Had that made sense to her?

She giggled. “That was very thoughtful of you.” She took his wrist and brought his hand back to her breast. Like a girl, she placed it on her with a gentleness he hadn’t and slowly rubbed his palm in a circle. Knew what she was doing, too, because her nipple sprang right up. “These aren’t sore,” she said shyly.

He plopped her ass on the counter and settled between her legs. Then, like a fuckin’ weirdo, he studied her for a long minute—hand off her breast. She seemed to be doing the same, her eyes darting around his face, a small smile flirting with her lips.

“You’re so fuckin’ young.”

“You look so mean.”

They spoke at the same time, and she laughed.

In the morning light, there wasn’t a blemish on her. He likely looked as if someone had drawn a roadmap around his eyes.

“You afraid of me, Tish?”

She snorted quietly. “Of you? Please. The way you look excites me. It always has. Though, I do still feel intimidated when you get mad.”

“Don’t.” He nipped at her jaw and breathed her in. She smelled like vanilla bean ice cream. “I’d never hurt you.”

“Mmm. Did I tell you yet that I love you?”

Peace flowed over him, making his skin prick with dread. “I may have heard something along those lines when your clingy pussy got greedy with my dick last night.”

She landed a weak swat to his shoulder. “Josh!” But he got the blush he’d been going for.

They smiled at each other, and he didn’t even find it cheesy, he just enjoyed the connection he’d been starved for and silently celebrated being home.

She ran her palm over his jaw. “The bump is gone, and the bruise is hidden under your bristles, but your eye is pretty dark today.”

He reached up and prodded the shiner Nick had given him when he’d thought Josh had fucked Tish before first seeking permission to claim her.

“Makes you look sexy. You’ll get some looks if we go out today. Not that that’ll be anything new,” she said wryly.

“Jealous?”

“Yes.”

He quirked a brow.

“What. I remember the attention you used to get when we’d go places. This big body. This.” She tapped on his cut. “Women love you. That’s another thing that kind of scares me.”

Was fun to hear he wasn’t the only one with issues. “What scares you about that?”

“Determined women. The girls who come to the parties at the clubhouse. The ones you meet on the road. They’re always around, and I won’t be. I’ve heard some of the girls talk, and know a couple of them have a strict don’t-ask-don’t-tell thing with their guys. I know of one who gave her husband the okay to cheat, but only if it was with someone from out of town. So, um, yeah, like I think I proved last night, I wouldn’t take it well if I ever found out you were with someone else.”

He barked out an incredulous laugh, probably looking as dumbfounded as he felt. “Holy shit, Tish. Are you fucking with me?”

Her face fell. “No, I’m not. I can’t be that…Josh, we touched on this last night, didn’t we? I…is that how you want us to be? I can’t. There’s no way. Buttons and his girlfriend have an open relationship.” As her lip curled, her forehead puckered like she was thinking hard. “He sometimes goes home and finds her in bed with another guy, and he doesn’t care. Last night; didn’t we touch on this?” she repeated, proving she was trying to remember. “We’re…each other’s now. Right?”

He calmly placed his palm over her mouth and wondered how many times he’d have to tell her this. “I’m committed to you a million percent. I give you my word; I will not stray. And you?” He let his hand fall and chuckled under his breath while fighting the need to give the cupboard door a right hook. “Yeah, you’re mine. If I walked in and found you in our bed with someone else, you’d be witness to the cruelest, most violent murder this town has ever seen. I’ve done some shit I’m not proud of, Tish, some really fuckin’ messy, stomach turning shit, and I can tell you right now, my gut is lead-lined so it would be game on.”

Her shoulders did a little shimmy as she shivered, but she looked fascinated rather than frightened. “You’d kill a guy for sleeping with me?”

“Goddamn right I would. I’d take that life without remorse.”

She hooked her feet around his thighs and pulled him in with her legs. “First, you’re crazy. Second, wow. That makes my curling-into-a-fetal-position-and-dying-of-a-broken-heart sound pathetic. I couldn’t kill a woman. I can’t even fight or anything. Maybe I should have Nina teach me some stuff. She’s trained with her cousin at the gym behind the shooting range.”

She didn’t appear the least bit bothered by anything he’d said. Him being gone when she woke scared her, but him practically admitting he’d dismembered someone didn’t phase her?

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

“What?”

“Knowing I’ve…done things?”

She shook her head and took his hands in hers to entangle their fingers. “No. I know who you are, Josh. Club business is kept private, but sometimes hearing snatches of conversation here and there is enough to get what’s happening even when I don’t want to. You guys are far from angels, but you’re not evil either. I wouldn’t love you and my uncle like I do if you were bullies who went around terrorizing the innocent people in our town.”

“How do you know we don’t?”

She traced the tattoo on his neck and brushed her lips against his skin as though giving the Grim Reaper he had inked there a kiss. The sizzle she left behind was damn sweet. “Because I know you. And like I said, I hear things. I’m not too crazy about the way some of you make your money, and I hate the things you have to do to stay near the top of the food chain, but this is our life, and I accepted what comes with it a long time ago.” Her lips drifted, skimming along his goatee. The tickle had her shivering again as she smiled and cemented her place by his side.

“What things have you heard lately?” He attempted to sound casual even as trepidation and a dangerously obsessive love were all but choking him.

“Not much. I know Chase has been meeting with that big shot who lives outside of town. Garrett Stager. I don’t know what it’s about, but I do know Chase can’t stand him.” She continued to play with him as she talked, stroking her fingers through his hair, lifting and examining the pendant he wore on a chain around his neck. She stroked the pad of her thumb over the skull’s ruby eye. “Garrett comes into the Greedy Serpent all the time. He doesn’t have much respect for women, and, apparently, he thinks tipping well makes up for it.” She rolled her eyes. “Our bartender says he has two girlfriends, and they know about each other. How insane is that? Oh, and I also know Nick had a meeting with Garrett’s brother a few weeks ago. I can’t remember his name. You know the one. He’s the lawyer turned politician that lives in Phoenix now.”

Josh’s stomach dropped to his boots. Yeah. He knew Garrett’s brother well, considering he’d been at that meeting, and Brad Stager was the very one who’d arranged Josh’s early release. Fuck him, but she picked up on a lot. Nick obviously wasn’t watching his every word around her.

“Where did you get all this info? Nick’s biz, Chase’s, all that personal shit about what the boys do with their women. You been hanging around the clubhouse more than you let on?” The idea was repugnant to him because it would mean his brothers had been eyeing her, likely wanting a piece but staying away because of Nick.

“No. I drop in, but I don’t have time to hang out much. I usually pick up on things at Beth’s or when I go for coffee with Fiona.”

He didn’t mind hearing that because it meant Tish was spending time with Nick’s mom and their Road Captain’s old lady. Both women were good influences.

“Nick comes here for dinner a couple of times a week,” she continued. “And he doesn’t leave the room for every single call he gets. He grunts through a lot of answers, and glares at me like he resents my presence sometimes,” she said with a grin, “but I think he trusts me enough to know I’d never say a word about his business to anyone.”

Fuck. He was going to have to talk to Nick about that. If Tish became privy to the details of some of the jobs they did, and that became known, she could be in danger. And not only from their enemies but from the authorities.

“What do you know about Nick meeting with Brad Stager?”

She snapped her fingers. “That’s it. Brad. And I don’t know anything. Only that the meeting took place. And I only know that much because when I dropped in at Beth’s before work one day, she mentioned Nick was going to Phoenix to have a sit down with ‘the Stager brother who’d left town.’” She air-quoted with her fingers. “She joked about how well her baby cleaned up and said she didn’t understand how he was still single. I don’t get that either.”

“Yeah. He needs to hook up. How’s Beth doing?” Nick’s mom was a social worker who should have visible angel wings protruding from her back. Aside from having earned them by mothering anyone who needed it, she’d kicked cancer’s ass not long ago. She’d been sick around the same time as Tish’s best friend’s mom. Tragic that one had made it while the other hadn’t.

“She looks amazing.”

“Good. Guy needs his mama around no matter his age.” Would he and Tish have a son first? Or would he get his wish and get the daughter he’d mentioned wanting last night?

“What was your mom like? You’ve never been one to talk about your parents.”

That had come out casual as all hell, but the quick glance up to check his reaction gave away the fact that she was digging.

“That’s true.” He hated to do it, but he couldn’t stop himself from pulling away from her, physically and emotionally. “I’m gonna go wash up.” He nodded at the coffee pot as he turned away, his mouth watering because it smelled delicious. “We’ll have a quick cup then go for a ride.”

He heard her feet tap as she hit the ground. “Do you want some breakfast?” Only a shadow of disappointment colored her voice.

“No, thanks, babe.” He went down the hallway and wanted to punch himself in the head. What a fuckin’ pussy he was, getting all emo at the mention of his family. He was going to have to tell her his shit at some point. He knew everything there was to know about Tish and her past. She knew nothing about him but what she’d witnessed herself.

He hit the light in the bathroom and wondered if that might be enough.

 

 

TWO

Tish O’Malley stood against the kitchen counter and watched the love of her life walk away, his chin near his chest, shoulders stiff. He’d shut her down. Oh, well. This was all brand new to both of them, she reminded herself, trying to be positive in the face of rejection. The least she could do was allow them to settle in before she started getting sulky because he wouldn’t open up to her. She’d known last night this would take some time. The least she could do was give him some.

She went about fixing their coffees, feeling excited at the thought of riding with him again. She’d done that for seven years before he’d gone away…

She tapped the spoon on the edge of her Daryl Dixon mug and paused. Including his time inside, they’d known each other ten years. That was a long time. Long enough that he should feel comfortable talking to her about his mom, not to mention the sister he’d sprung on her last night. And what about his dad? After he’d worn her out last night, Josh had said he’d lost his family when he was young. Were they all dead?

Tish’s heart grew heavy at the thought of him suffering such a loss. And heavier still because she was standing there in the dark. Had he always been so secretive about his past? Maybe because she’d never been so interested in it before, she just hadn’t noticed. Or it could be he’d never snubbed her until now because she’d never felt she had the right to question him. Yet he knew her better than anyone on this planet, knew everything there was to know about her. He was fully aware she’d had an awful childhood before coming to Queen Creek. He knew how lonely and lost she’d felt growing up with Rachel for a mother. He knew of Tish’s simple goals in life; a real home, financial security, and eventually, a family…

She waited for the usual stomach flip and maybe-never that typically followed thoughts of getting pregnant. Nothing. No negative reaction presented when Josh played the role of her child’s father. Shockingly, the idea of waking in the middle of the night to feed his son or daughter provoked an odd feeling of…anticipation. And even weirder, some impatience. Maybe this need to have a baby with her that he’d shared last night was already rubbing off. She took a sip from her cup as her cell rang. She snagged it and saw it was her uncle. He must have gotten to her message.

“Hey. Sorry for calling so early. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“You’d have to call earlier than this to wake me, kid. I’ve been at the yard since before six. What’s happening? Josh show yet?”

“Yeah. He was out riding. Sorry. I overreacted when I woke and he was gone. Thought I’d imagined last night—”

“La, la, la, la, la, la—oh, you done talking about something I don’t fuckin’ need to hear about?”

She laughed as she took her coffee and went to look out the back window. Two clusters of birds were next to the picnic table, kicking up a plume of dust while they played. “Are you kidding me? Not that I’m about to share something so personal, but after all the crap I’ve heard you say over the years, you’re going to get squeamish when I make a veiled reference?”

“Yup. You and the bitchy mechanic are babies who shouldn’t be dabbling in that shit yet. Lucky it’s Josh dragging you under. Anyone else and you’d be playing nurse this morning.”

“Huh. Is that so?”

“Yeah, that’s so. You’re too young and naïve to get tangled up, Tish. You’re also too good for any other asshole hanging in this one-horse town.”

She turned when she heard Josh’s heavy steps pause in the doorway, and dropped her eyes from his wary expression to his groin. “That’s kind of sweet in a warped way, but because you just admitted to thinking me and Nina are dummies, I’m going to extend my appreciation to you for gifting me with a horse of my very own. Thanks, Uncle Nick,” she said with a—mostly—false exuberance. “He was fabulous.”

“Ugh,” was all she got before her uncle hung up on her.

She smirked and put her cup and phone on the counter as Josh came forward, his golden gaze darting toward the door as if he was thinking of using it to get out of talking with the woman he was now in a loving, committed relationship with.

“What was that about?” he grumbled as she brought his mug to the fridge to put some milk in his coffee.

She held up the jug. “Still a yes?” She hated that she didn’t know.

“Always a yes,” he said with a serious look on his face that made it clear he was talking about more than the dairy. Okay. He really was too sexy.

She added a splash, slipped the jug back onto the shelf, and stirred as she went to him. She handed it over with both hands and a bright smile. “That was my uncle being a dork. You have your coffee. I’ll go get ready.” He snagged her arm as she went by.

“You’re upset that I won’t talk to you.”

Ignoring the warm sizzle that flared where he touched her, she hesitated for a split second. She didn’t want to be a needy bitch, but she also didn’t want to lie and pretend she was okay sitting in the dark by herself. So, petting his hard abs to detract from the fact that she was already making something between them an issue, she nodded. She looked down when her fingers bumped over the ridges that were his stomach muscles, and because she now could, after having waited for so long to have the right, she lifted the hem of his white T-shirt and moaned in her head when the paint rollers under his skin were revealed. His jeans rested low on his hips, and she couldn’t deny the man was sex on legs.

“Why?”

She swallowed the saliva that had pooled in her mouth. “I’m curious to know you on a deeper level than I did before,” she answered honestly.

“Why?”

Her eyes flashed up in time to see him shove his dark blond faux-hawk off his forehead. “Because I want to know where you came from, Josh. I want to know what shaped you to be the man you are.”

“Why?” he asked a third time. “I am who I am, and you know me better than anyone. Does there have to be more?”

The idea of never knowing about his family or how he grew up, if he was treated well or if he’d suffered some sort of trauma that she couldn’t offer him sympathy for, gave her a shitty feeling. Going by the pain she’d seen in his eyes when he’d mentioned his sister, he was obviously crushed over her loss. How had she died? Had he been involved in some way? Did he feel responsible? The shitty feeling grew. Why would he want to keep that bottled up? Did he not want her to know all of him? Did he have something to hide? Was there something, or someone, in his past that he didn’t want her to…know…about?

She tried not show her sudden suspicions even as they grew into monsters that would haunt her. Could he have a wife somewhere? Tish had met him when he was twenty-eight which was plenty old enough for him to have already been married. What if he had children?

He sighed and gently took her by the arms. “Tish-Tosh.”

Her head flipped up, and she struggled to disappear the horror she could feel taking over her expression at the thought of him loving someone else enough to want to have a family with her. “Yeah?”

“Don’t do that to yourself, babe. There’s no big drama here. No secrets. No bitch is gonna crawl out of the woodwork one day and claim a divorce was never finalized. Some college kid isn’t gonna show up on Father’s Day and call me dad. I’m not wanted for murder, and I’ve never beaten or raped a woman in my life. Did I cover the worst of them or should I go on?”

God, she was so stupid. Voiced, her suspicions sounded ridiculous. Her face heated as she stood on her toes and curled her arms around his tattooed neck. She hugged him, the familiar scent of leather and man soothing her. “You did, thank you. I’m grateful you know me so well.”

The offhand comment fell between them like an anvil. It was unintentional on her part, but he didn’t know that. She drew back with a wince. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

“I know. Forget it.” Spinning her away, he slapped her ass. “Drop this shit and go get ready.”

She could do that for him. “Give me fifteen,” she said as she darted out.

Entering her bedroom, she paused and looked over her shoulder when she heard a sound. Josh had followed her and was now standing in the doorway.

She raised her brows. “You gonna watch?” she teased.

He nodded.

Her humor dimmed. “You are? For real?”

“Start from scratch. Call me a masochist, but I want to see your routine. You’re gonna pretend I’m not here, and I’m gonna see what you’ve done every morning since I’ve been away.”

“Exactly how I do it?” she asked with a cringe when she thought of her awful singing voice.

“Exactly how you do it.”

“But, it’s daylight.”

“So? What does that have to do with…?” A slow smile formed, curving his goatee. “Unless you do what you do in the nude.” His voice went low. “Do you do what you do in the nude, Tish?”

She felt her cheeks heat so she figured she might as well admit it. “Most times, because I’m alone.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked as if he were bracing himself. “Proceed.”

“Er, okay,” she surprised herself by saying. “Can I at least talk to you while I embarrass myself?”

He rolled his eyes. “You can’t feel embarrassed doing shit around me because there’s nothing you can do that will shock me. Or disgust me. Or whatever it is you think you’re about to do. But you can be sure it’s going to make me want to fuck you. I’ll make a sound every time the thought pops into my head. Now go.”

With her body now tingling all over, she went.

 

***

 

Josh watched his shy nineteen-year-old former virgin pull the tie from her hair before drawing his T-shirt over her head—that was all she’d had on. While he held himself back with iron shackles, she brushed by him to get to the bathroom. He didn’t make his I-wanna-fuck sound yet because he didn’t want to appear as weak as he felt. But, goddamn, that tanned skin with the pale bikini-shaped patches, the blonde mass that was her hair flirting with the slight arch in her lower back, rounded buttocks jiggling just enough to make his teeth ache to sink in. Goddamn, did he want to fuck.

He sat on the closed toilet seat and allowed her the privacy of the curtain while she showered. He rested his elbows on his knees as the scent of her soap and shampoo drifted out on the steam to twist him in knots.

He groaned as if releasing a money shot.

“Did you say something? I couldn’t hear you over the water.”

“Just immaturely letting you know about the fucking I wish we were doing.”

When she pulled the edge of the curtain back, she was grinning, but there was regret in her expression. Her hair was full of suds and piled on top of her head. She went to say something when a blob of suds ran down over one eye. Holding up a finger, she ducked back but came out a few seconds later with her hair rinsed clean. “I’m sorry I’m such a rookie.”

Aw, shit. Pissed at himself for making her feel as if she had to apologize for her innocence, he popped to his feet to set her straight, but before he could, she stumbled back and almost slipped. His hand shot out, and he grabbed her slick arm. He didn’t miss the way her eyes fluttered as if preparing for a blow to land.

“What the fuck was that?” he demanded.

She stared up at him, disconcerted. “What? I only meant because I’m too sore to have sex.”

He waved her off. “Not that. You flinched like you were expecting to get hit. Why?”

“What?” Her face screwed up. “No, I didn’t. You startled me when you jumped up. That’s all.”

“No. I reached out to catch you before you fell and you looked as if you were preparing yourself for a slap or something. I saw you, Tish. Why would you react like that?” Fuckin’ Rachel, that cunt. He knew she’d slapped Tish around when Tish was small, but did those scars still exist?

The big blue eyes he was staring into widened, and then his beauty laughed. “I didn’t. Who in the world would hit me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some asshole you work with gave you a ride home and came onto you. When you turned him down, he could have gotten pissed and raised a hand to you.” He was all but growling at the end of the hair-raising scenario.

“Oh, my God. Are you nuts?” She laughed again. “Aside from Nick, the only guy who regularly gives me a ride home is Brian; you saw him last night. And he’d no more hit me than I’d hit him.”

“He the one getting married?”

She nodded.

He should appreciate that the guy had had her back when Josh hadn’t been around, but he didn’t. No matter. Brian had already played taxi for the last time. “Why’d you flinch then?”

“Because my boyfriend is huge, and when he lunges to his feet my natural instinct is to close my eyes and brace for impact.”

Smartass. He cupped her jaw. “You sure that’s all it was?”

“Positive.” Nothing but honesty shone from her eyes.

Which meant he had to let it go. And get away from all that wet skin. “All I was going to say was I felt bad for making you feel you had to apologize for what I did to your body last night. I knew I should have taken it easy on you, but once I was inside, I lost my head. You being out of commission is more my doing than yours.”

“Well, you are packing some monster meat down there, so I’ll agree. Now, make your noise for me again because I missed it the first time.”

His lip quirked. “I can’t. I’m currently thinking more about what a selfish asshole I am than fucking you.”

“Huh. Okay. Shoo.” She waved him back toward the toilet seat. “Let me finish up.”

He did as he was told and sat.

“Do you like the smell of this soap? If not, I’ll pick up a different brand next time I’m out.”

“Don’t bother. I like it.”

“Me, too. It lathers up just right. Feels so nice on my skin.”

He narrowed his eyes at her outline behind the curtain.

“Mmm.” She was running her hands over her tits.

“Are your nipples hard, Tish?”

“Uh-huh.” He watched the shadow of her hands go down her stomach and between her legs.

As he pictured her barely worked-in pussy, a moan rose in his chest and bubbled out without prompting.

Her grin was bright and satisfied when she popped her head around the opaque curtain again. “That didn’t take much at all. I was prepared to go on about how nice it felt on my fresh wax job.” She winked.

“Finish up, Tish.”

“Yes, Master.”

When she ducked out of sight, he threw his head back and mimicked screaming at the ceiling. He’d been locked in a cell for three dry years with nothing but his fee-fee for company. His naked woman was ten feet away, and he was sitting here fully clothed. Not right. Not right at all.

There were other ways he could get off with her, but he didn’t want her thinking that was all she was good for. But, man, was she good. Mm-mmm. He closed his eyes and relived the sounds she’d made when he’d made her squirt last night. Her hot pussy and tight little ass—

The water shut off, and the metal rings scraping across the rod had him bringing his head to rights. Aw, hell. What the fuck was he doing in here?

Water droplets fell from her lashes, chin, and tight rose-colored nipples, while rivulets trailed down her firm stomach. Those lucky sonsofbitches disappeared into the small pink slit between her shapely legs. Fuck, he loved how bare it was, and he’d shout down any feminist who shamed a woman for going hair-free.

“That pussy of yours…fuuuck. Looking at it all wet like that makes my head feel like Gav just punched me in the temple. You into sliding your hand down to split those lips open so I can see what I’m missing?”

He could tell she was considering it, but then she shook her head. Rookie.

He nodded. “S’ok. How about if you squeeze your tits again now that I can see you. And if you really want to please me, pinch your nipples.”

After only the slightest hesitation, and a growing smile, she did both.

His cock throbbed. “Will you lay on your bed and masturbate for me yet? Or is it still too soon?”

She laughed nervously and bared her breasts when she snagged a towel off the rack. “Uh, considering you only asked me last night, I’d say it’s still too soon.”

“Thought so. Can’t blame a pig for trying.” He winked and sat back, keeping his hands as far away from his dick as possible. It would be damn humiliating to accidentally stroke himself and come in his jeans like a fuckin’ newb. “Carry on. I’ll shut up now.”

He watched her dry off and wrap her hair in a towel.

“Would you masturbate for me?” she asked as she stepped out of the tub and grabbed a bottle of something from the counter. She squirted some into her palm before spreading it all over the fucking place. She rubbed it down her arms and legs, across her stomach, into her ass cheeks, then she did her breasts. She was shiny, and the scent was all her. He was smelling what he’d tasted when he’d had her in his mouth last night; fresh and a touch sweet, like a vanilla flavored peach. The tart surprise that had burst on his tongue when he’d dipped into her pussy that first time hadn’t come from a bottle, though. That was all her.

“You don’t normally do that, do you? You’re fucking with me.”

Her hands went up, and she moisturized her neck and cheeks. “No. I do this after every shower. I hate dry skin.”

“I read coconut oil is good for preventing stretch marks during pregnancy.”

She stilled with an amused smirk on her mouth. “Will you get paid for that? You sounded like their spokesperson.”

“No. Only keeping you informed so you’re in the know when the time comes.”

“O-kay.” Her eyes flicked down to his lap. “Remind me in a couple of years, and we’ll make sure to have some in the house.”

“Couple of months, you mean.”

Her smirk melted away. “Months?”

He nodded. “The drawback? Remember? I mentioned it last night. Did you think I was talking out my ass, Tish?”

“No. But I didn’t think you meant you wanted to get me pregnant today,” she laughed.

“I do.”

The laugh went the same way as the smirk, slowly disappearing. “Uh-huh.” She kept half an eye on him and he could tell she wasn’t sure if he was being serious. Sweet thing.

“I do, Tish. I’ll give it to you as straight as I can. I want to get you on me and continuously empty myself into your young, fresh, fertile body.” He leaned forward when she looked at the full hard-on he was now sporting. “I swear I won’t stop until I’m using those two pink lines as fuckin’ chopsticks.”

With her cheeks growing bright and her routine of combatting dry skin becoming jerky and agitated, she made an uneasy sound. “You’re crazy. And can you tell me why I never knew having a family was so important to you?”

“Because you weren’t my old lady when I left. Just my downfall.”

“Nice, Josh.”

“Isn’t it? Let’s move on before we get into a fight.”

“Okay,” she said like the obedient little woman of his dreams. “You never did answer my question. Would you masturbate for me?” She went under the counter and took out another bottle with a label that wasn’t so girly.

“Yup.”

Her smile returned, and he could have sworn he felt its warmth. She was like the goddamn sun shining right in his face, heating him from the inside out, cracking him out of the deep freeze he’d been shivering in since he’d left her three years ago.

“You would?”

He met her eyes in the mirror, and was tempted to tell her he would gladly do any fuckin’ thing she asked if it resulted in her being happy. The aim was to see her lips curl at the corners and that tiny almost-dimple appear in her cheek, wasn’t it? “If you asked me to, I’d beat my dick like Gavin does someone who owes us money.”

She burst out laughing and pumped a healthy amount of the plain-label moisturizer into her palm. “This one is unscented,” she said, her eyes twinkling as she came to stand in front of him.

He could have sworn his gulp echoed through the room. “O-kay,” he said slowly, trying to read her expression.

She put her hands together and spread the cream. “Will you let me?”

A rush of heat overflowed and spread through his groin. “Aw, fuck, Tish. Let you do what, babe?” He held his breath.

“Masturbate you. I finally had you last night but it wasn’t enough, and I want more. Just because I can’t have you where I really want you doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy you in other ways. Oh, and you’ll feel good, too,” she said quickly as if that was a selling point she felt needed to be made. “Uh, feeling how excited you get because of what we do together is amazing and I want to get you there again. I want to play with you. I want to see it and lick it and suck on it again, too, but we can save that for later if you want. Or we can do it now. There isn’t any real point in waiting. Right?”

Much to Josh’s delight, her breathing was now labored.

“If you need to wait, then I can wait.” He said what was expected of him, but there was a weak note in his voice, and going by the satisfied curve of her lips, she heard it.

She wriggled her creamy fingers. “Get him out here so I can say good morning.”

After that, he didn’t even attempt to fight his need to have her hands on him. But he did let his head fall back, and he did slam it into the wall a few times. He came back up and scowled at her as he unzipped and pulled his jeans open. His cock sprang straight up, thick and proud, bouncing slightly as he flipped the denim in to cover the teeth of the zipper so the metal wouldn’t cut him when he tucked it under his aching nuts.

“It’s yours. Do what you will.”

She slowly rubbed the cream between her hands again as she stared ravenously at his cock. The flush that presented in her chest and flowed up her neck was all sexual. “Bring that stool over for me.”

His brow popped. In all the time they’d known each other, she’d never ordered him to do a damn thing. That right there had been an order. One he followed by sticking his foot out to pull a small stool over from it’s place next to the laundry hamper.

“Spread and put it between your legs, please.”

The “please” was a nice touch, but he didn’t need it because he gladly did both so she could settle in. “I’m going to kiss it before I put the cream on it, okay?”

He held it up by pushing his thumb to the base. “I’m gonna say no?”

She smirked, and the kiss she brought to the head of his dick was open mouthed and pursed lips, and she didn’t only peck him, she sucked him, too.

He made a rough sound in his throat. “You little shit. That’s sucking my dick, not kissing it.”

“Really? Here I’d have thought you’d know the difference. That was a kiss. This is sucking.” She opened her mouth and pulled the whole head in. The light suction she applied had his supple helmet conforming to the roof of her hot mouth. Her tongue fit itself around the rest of him. “Hm-mmm?”

“Holy Christ. Yeah, babe.” His fuckin’ balls were trying to climb up to get in her mouth, too. “Got it. There’s a difference. Ah, fuck, the difference…yeah, it’s a good one.” He shuddered as he unwound the towel on her head and tossed it onto the side of the tub so he could thread his fingers through her wet hair.

She popped off. “I like doing this to you.” She licked down the front and came back up to lolly-pop him with the entire surface of her tongue. “Makes me feel dirty. When I taste you and know you’re excited it’s even better.” She crowded closer and was so intent on her task that she didn’t notice her towel had slipped and was now pooled at her waist. He couldn’t see her pussy, but her berry-tipped breasts and firm stomach were enough.

“Giving me a visual is gonna make this go even quicker, Tish-Tosh,” he warned as amusement hit him when he noted her creamy hands were high in the air as if someone had a gun in her back.

He lightly brushed his fingertips over her nipples and watched them contract. His cock throbbed when she moaned. When he pinched the nubs, she squirmed and rubbed against his knees that he’d tightened to box her in.

She came up again, looking excited. “I know!” she said as she slid the stool back. She grabbed the towel at her waist and wiped the cream off her hands before opening the cupboard again. Back she came with yet another bottle that she flashed before pouring a liberal amount into her palm.

He groaned loudly. “Jesus Christ, Tish. Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

Yes, he saw. She was.

As though she’d plucked the image directly from his spank bank, she brought that hand up to her chest and began rubbing baby oil all over her perfect tits. His head buzzed with need when she made sure a liberal amount of lube was left between them.

“I’ve heard guys like this. So…” She dropped the bottle on the floor, hugged up close again, and then his not-so-innocent former virgin pressed her arms together to form a tight crevice. “Fuck them. Go on. Slide my new toy in and fuck me this way.” She held up a shiny finger. “But I want you in my mouth when you come.”

His brain fried. “Yes. Your mouth. Gimme these. Fuckin’ beauties.” He shifted his hips, and then pushed the head of his ready-to-blow cock up and through the slippery globes on her chest. He held her by her fragile shoulders and began a leisurely up and down, coating his dick with the oil. The sight of his cockhead repeatedly appearing under her chin was good, but not as good as when she opened her mouth and started licking him whenever he came up.

“Yes. Christ, that’s sweet. Hot and slippery, just like your pussy when I fucked it. Ah, that pussy,” he groaned, remembering.

She craned her neck and squashed her tits closer together with her hands, then took in the whole head every time he drove through the narrow passage. After a minute, she was releasing herself to grab him. She pumped his shaft and held his eyes as she sucked him in, oil and all. It was with such hunger that she went at him, such genuine enthusiasm. She appeared insatiable, and that was his undoing when combined with the friction of her soft lips, the perfect suction, and those damn fingers spreading to stroke every part of his glistening cock and balls.

“Take it, Tish. Holy fucking hell,” he moaned as his muscles seized and he stiffened. He felt his ejaculate pump up his shaft and spray. He pried his eyes open so he could watch her throat work. “So good, babe…mmm…need your cunt…mouth is heaven…second best.”

He wasn’t making much sense, but she understood him because he got a high-pitched uh-huh, and then another, and another. That was when he realized she was encouraging him in between swallowing.

His orgasm blew his brains out.

He came back into his head to the feel of ten fingernails putting enough pressure on his thighs to cause him pain even through his jeans. Tish’s hot throat was hugging his cockhead—

His cockhead? His eyes sprung open to see that in the throes of his climax, he’d jerked her head down until deepthroating his dick wasn’t an option but a surety. Her jaw was stretched to the limit, and her nostrils were flaring but coming up empty. Quickly, and with a wince of regret, he pulled his length out and apologized as she sucked in some air before coughing.

She gave his outer thigh a light wack. “You have to warn me before you do that. I didn’t even get a breath before you plugged me up with this thing.” She glided her free hand up and down his saliva-soaked cock, making him hiss. He stopped her.

“You know how sensitive your clit feels after you come? That’s my dick right now.” He bent and kissed her wet mouth. Fuck, he loved her like this. So juicy. Panting. He licked and rubbed his lips all around hers. “You’re messy. So fuckin’ hot.” He didn’t think she was aware when she squeezed him, but feeling himself start to get hard again, he removed her hand. If she got him ready, they’d never get out of here.

“How was that for you? Is there anything I can do to make it more enjoyable?”

Her look was so earnest it made him want to take her into the bedroom and spend a couple of hours on cock sucking lessons she didn’t need. Being the teacher as well as the test subject would be trying, but he was sure he could handle it.

“I won’t be offended if you tell me,” she tacked on when he didn’t respond right away.

“Babe, about the only thing you could do to improve that would be to get up here and sink that pretty pussy onto my dick so I could give you a good, long ride now that you’ve taken the edge off.” He lifted her to her feet and gave her a gentle shove toward the mirror. “Anyone can suck a cock, Tish. The thing that makes getting a blowjob from you an out of fuckin’ body experience is the hunger in your eyes when you’re doing me. You’re greedy with my dick, and there’s no technique to top that.”

She ducked her head and self-consciously finished wiping off the excess oil on her chest. “I do feel rather possessive of it,” she murmured as she fixed her toothbrush and went to work, speaking around the froth as he recovered. “When we go to that sex shop in Mesa, I want to look for some edible oils. I’ve heard of those. Baby oil is icky.”

She spat and rinsed, then blow-dried her hair. That took some time, and he was able to do what he’d originally wanted to do; watch her routine.

The quiet was jarring when she shut the appliance off, and he looked up from the faint bumps of her vertebrae to see her watching him through the mirror with an expression he’d only ever seen in her eyes. It was a proud, possessive light that split him wide open and wrapped around his heart like a fist.

I love you, Tish. I’ll love you until they draw that sheet over me and declare the time of my death. I’ll protect you and shelter you, and do everything in my power to make you happy. Don’t you fuckin’ dare leave me to live this life without you.

“I’m so happy to have you home,” she said softly.

He got up and pulled her against him. As he held her small naked body to his fully clothed one, he looked at them in the mirror. She was a pure, innocent girl just starting to live her life. He was a weathered, chauvinistic caveman.

But, going by that look in her eyes, he was her caveman, and never had he been more grateful for anything in his whole fuckin’ life. ©

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Nineteen-year-old Tish O’Malley has loved Josh “The Guardian” Sylvan since she was a child. When her reticent hero returns to Queen Creek after serving a three-year prison term meant for her mother, Tish is through pretending this man nearly twice her age isn’t the only happiness she’s ever known.

Will the viciously loyal Sergeant at Arms stand by his instant and brutal rejection of the woman Tish has become? Or will he give in and claim her as his young queen despite his best efforts to resist the one female who should never have made it on his radar?

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*NOTE: Blind Devotion was previously released as HIS YOUNG QUEEN a little over a year ago. It was meant to be a short story I had no intention of publishing but is now the intro into the Steel Jackals MC series. It’s in Tish O’Malley’s POV only, and hers and Josh’s story continues in BLIND FAITH, which is also available now.