Valiant: Joker's Wrath MC, page 2
Shania looks like a bombshell in her skin tight red dress. Her dark hair is down too, only it’s tack straight and flowing around her hips. She’s got Italian in her, and her hair is thick, long, and damned gorgeous. Most men stop in their tracks when she walks in. Understandably so; she’s breathtaking and she has an amazing personality to match.
A combination that’s rare these days.
She turns when our drinks are made and hands me one. I take it, swallowing a long, deep sip. The alcohol burns my throat but is quickly eased by the cranberry juice. I feel a little less tense instantly.
“Let’s find a booth, have a few of these, then we’ll dance.”
I nod and follow her through the crowd until we find a booth. I slide in first, and she shuffles in beside me. I take another sip of my drink as we scan the crowd. It’s mostly well-dressed people, mingling, acting like they’re at a fine dining restaurant and not a club. I chuckle.
That’s when my eyes zone in on him.
It’s hard to miss him. After one glance I can already see he’s the kind of man that stands out in a crowd. You can’t help but look at him, even if you’re not intending to. I don’t know if it’s the stance, or the wild laughter coming from his mouth, or the muscles on his forearm, or just that he’s probably one of the most incredible looking men I’ve ever seen.
But he stands out.
God, does he stand out.
“You’re seeing him too, huh?” Shania says, and I jerk my eyes away from the incredibly attractive man and look to her.
“It’s hard to miss him.”
She wiggles her brows. “You should go and talk to him, he’s gorgeous.”
Instantly, my defenses come up, and the wall I’ve built around my heart strengthens. No. I won’t go and talk to him. Not after York. The absolute last thing I want in my life is a man. I’m in no position to trust anyone, I’m in no position to guarantee I can stick around, I’m just in no position for anything.
“No,” I say, my voice firm.
Her eyes soften. “You don’t have to marry him, honey. You can just have a conversation with him. It’ll do you good.”
Images of York’s smile flash through my mind. He was that man once. Just an easygoing, funny guy standing in a bar. Then he turned into a monster. I can’t take that risk again. I won’t take it.
“I really don’t want to, can we drop it?” I say, forcing a smile even though my lips tremble.
“Of course,” she says instantly.
“Tell me how your love life is going,” I say, changing the subject.
“It’s not,” she huffs, sipping her drink. “I swear. It’s just at a direct stand still right now.”
“Rick still not playing the game?” I laugh.
“Oh, he’s playing the game, all right, he’s just not playing the game I want. I swear, we’re friends with all the benefits, all the perks of a relationship, but the damned man refuses to say the words I need to hear.”
“You’re my girlfriend?” I say, wiggling my brows.
“Exactly. Honestly, he can’t even use the ‘I’m afraid of commitment’ line because seriously, we stay at each other’s houses, go everywhere together, have met each other’s families—we are basically in a relationship.”
Giggling, I sip my drink. “Maybe you should just ease up and enjoy it. How important is the title, really?”
She looks to me with her mouth slightly gaping. “How important is a title? Very! Very, I tell you. I know his actions are speaking all the words, but dammit, I’m a female, I need the damned words.”
“Maybe you should stop giving him all the perks then and he’ll step up.”
Her brows go up. “Keep going ...”
I laugh. “Well, you’re giving him all the perks of being your boyfriend, without forcing him to actually step up and be your boyfriend. Take the perks away, and when he asks why, tell him you’re ready for something more serious, and if he can’t give it to you then you don’t want to be wasting any more time.”
She frowns. “But what if he takes that as an out and actually leaves me?”
I raise my brows and purse my lips. “Then honestly, was he worth it?”
“Dammit, I hate when you’re right. Still, I don’t actually want to lose him.”
“Trust me, babe,” I say, nodding my head. “He ain’t going anywhere. The way he looks at you ... Swoon.”
I nod. “Absolutely. Give him a little push; it’ll do him good. You’re a gorgeous girl with an incredible personality. If he lets you go, he’s an idiot.”
She smiles huge. “Heck yeah!”
As if on cue, her phone rings. She stares down at Rick’s number flashing on the screen.
“What do I do? What do I do?” she panics.
Laughing, I calmly say, “What would you usually do?”
“Um, I’d answer it.”
“Without hesitation, every time?”
She nods, her cheeks going pink.
“Then it’s simple. Don’t answer it.”
She gapes at me. “But ... but ...”
“Trust me. Don’t answer it. Let him wonder where you are. And when he asks later, you simply tell him you were busy. That’s it. No more explanation needed. He’s not your boyfriend, so you don’t actually owe him that.”
“Gosh,” she says, rejecting the call and putting the phone in her purse. “You’re an evil genius.”
I roll my eyes and hold up my glass. “To us. To girl power.”
She grins. “Girl power.”
I narrow my eyes at the smooth, masculine voice that appears from behind me. For a moment, I think I’m hearing things. I turn from my spot at the bar where I’m waiting for round three of drinks, and see Hot Guy standing behind me, staring down at me.
For a second, my breath is sucked from my lungs, and I can’t breathe. He’s quite possibly the best looking man I’ve ever seen up close. Brown hair that falls messily over his forehead, hair that has that ‘I just got out of bed and ran my hand through it’ kind of look. His skin has a soft olive glow, and is so incredibly smooth. His eyes—oh, his eyes. Not blue. Not green. But a mixture of both.
Like somebody got two colors of paint and just mixed them together in one messy, yet incredibly gorgeous mix.
He’s tall, possibly just under six foot, and he’s lean, yet well built. His muscles are defined, sculpted, and solid. A tattoo snakes up one of his forearms and disappears under his tight, incredibly well-fitting black tee. He’s everything I should be staying away from. He has an edge behind that big grin that I can sense.
He’s a bad boy, even if he doesn’t know it.
“I’m not interested.”
His brows go up, and for a moment, he doesn’t say anything. Perhaps he’s processing the message I just very clearly fed him.
“What makes you think I was here hitting on you?” he asks, crossing his arms over his chest.
God, that chest.
He grins, and he has dimples. Wow.
“I was, yeah. But you didn’t even let me get that far before rejecting me.”
“That’s because I knew I was going to reject you even before you opened your mouth.”
He looks slightly confused, but keeps his arrogant edge. “And you knew that because of what, exactly? My incredible good looks and charm?”
“No, I’m just not interested. End of story. You could be Brad Pitt, and I still wouldn’t be interested.”
He looks slightly wounded by that. “Everyone is interested.”
I snort, unable to stop it. “Well, I’m not. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a friend to get back to.”
He tilts his head to the side and studies me. “You’re not joking.”
I raise my brows. “Do I look like I’m joking?”
He purses his lips.
I fight a smile.
Now he really looks wounded.
“Well,” I say, taking the drinks off the bar, “I’m sure it’ll do you good.”
“Can I at least have the name of the woman who clearly has no problem insulting random strangers?” he calls as I walk towards the crowd.
“No,” I call back.
“A hint?” he calls after me.
I flip him the bird and disappear into the crowd. I can’t help the smile that spreads across my face. He took that better than most men, I have to give him that. I reach the booth and Shania looks up at me, her eyes wide. “What?” I mumble, sliding in.
“He spoke to you.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, and I made it clear I wasn’t interested.”
She gasps. “You did?”
“Yeah. I did.”
“That poor man. Imagine how he must feel right now.”
I laugh and flip her the bird, too. “You know I’m not interested in dating, and I’m certainly not interested in dating men like him.”
“Men like him?” she asks.
“Yeah, cocky men that are so sure they can get any woman they snap their fingers at. Men like that, they’re shallow and self-centered. He might look like Heaven, but I guarantee you dating him would be my own personal Hell.”
She pretends to play an invisible violin. “Gosh, you’re dramatic.”
I grin at her. “Are you denying my theory?”
“No,” she says, dropping her arms and taking her drink. “But damn, he was fine.”
“Yes, I’m sure plenty of other girls will enjoy him.”
“Did you at least get his name?”
I glance back at the man standing at the bar, his eyes trained on me, even through the crowd. “No,” I murmur, looking away.
Shania’s phone rings in her purse, and her eyes dart to me.
“What number is that?” I ask, sipping my drink.
“That’s his ninth call. I should answer it, right?”
I shake my head. “Nope, not until you get home. Trust me, it isn’t hurting him.”
“Give me that phone.”
She shakes her head quickly, pressing it to her chest.
“Now, Shania. Trust me. If this doesn’t work, I’ll never ever give you advice again and you can carry on answering his calls nine hundred and fifty times a day.”
She exhales and gives in, handing me the phone. I tuck it into my purse and hold my drink up.
“Now,” I say. “Let’s enjoy the rest of our night.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “Let’s.”
My eyes slide back to the man at the bar, who is still watching me.
There is something about him; I’m not sure what, but it’s there.
It doesn’t matter.
I won’t break on this one.
It’s for the best.
THEN – MADDIE
Something is wrong.
I know it, but I can’t pinpoint what that something is. There is nothing majorly obvious, nothing is right there in front of me, but I can feel it with every ounce of my being. Something inside of me is on high alert as I stare at York, who is in the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before. In fact, he does it all the time.
Perhaps it’s the urgency or his quick movements.
Or perhaps it’s just the sinking feeling in my stomach that I’ve had for days; the feeling I can’t seem to shake, no matter what I do.
“Hey,” I say softly, wrapping my robe tighter around myself and walking in closer.
It’s eight in the morning. Early. He didn’t come home last night, which isn’t unusual. He works nightshift, sometimes that goes until early morning. There are times he doesn’t make it to bed before I wake up. Some days, it almost feels like I just don’t see him.
Turning from the fridge, he looks over at me. He has these incredible green eyes, unlike any I’ve ever seen. Like two emeralds shining brightly from his face. His hair is a mix of brown and red, but it suits him. It isn’t a color I’d usually look for in a male, but he does it justice, in a big way. His chiseled jaw is covered in stubble, and his body is large, muscled and covered in tattoos.
“Hey, baby,” he murmurs, tearing open a bag of cheese.
That only makes my stomach twist even more. Why does he need cheese? He hates cheese. It seems so odd that he’d be eating it. If it were anything else, I wouldn’t notice, but cheese? My stomach is screaming that something is wrong and to just ask him about it, but I’m terrified of shattering our perfect world.
We’re so happy.
“Is everything okay?” I ask, trying to make the question sound casual and not like an attack of any sort.
“Yeah,” he says, putting some cheese into his mouth. “Why?”
“You’re eating cheese. You hate cheese.”
He stares down at the bag then chews for a few more seconds before turning around and spitting the cheese into the sink. I watch, mouth slightly agape, as he shoves the bag back into the fridge and comes back out with a bag of carrots sticks I cut up yesterday.
“Thought it was carrots,” he shrugs.
That seems like a valid explanation, so why is my stomach still twisting and turning, screaming at me that it’s not valid and I need to dig deeper?
“How was work?” I ask, moving closer to turn the coffee pot on.
“Long,” he says, crunching on some carrots.
I nod, turning to him and stepping closer. He reaches out, putting a hand around my waist and pulling me close, pressing his lips to my head. “How’d you sleep?” he asks.
“Fine,” I answer. “You’re in later than usual this morning; did you have extra work?”
He looks down at me, and up close, I can see his eyes are slightly bloodshot.
They get like that when he’s tired, stop being so paranoid.
“Nah, we finished earlier, and I hung out with the guys for a bit before coming home.”
“Oh, that sounds nice. What did you get up to?”
His eyes narrow. “Sounds a lot like you’re questioning me, Maddie.”
I force a smile. “Not at all, just interested in your night.”
He studies me further, then lets me go. “Don’t appreciate coming home to twenty questions. I work hard to keep this house over your head, over Rae’s head ...”
“I know, York,” I say softly. “I wasn’t trying to be difficult, I was just asking ...”
“Well, don’t,” he mutters, stepping out of the kitchen and disappearing down the hall. “I’m goin’ to sleep.”
I stare after him. Confused. Hurt. Unsure.
He has a temper. He’s always had a temper. But usually I can talk to him about anything. He’s been edgy for the last few weeks, and I’ve tried, oh, I’ve tried, to just let it go. Maybe it’s been me. Maybe it’s Rae. Maybe he’s just stressed.
But something is off.
I can feel it so strongly.
I just don’t know how to proceed.
“Jesus, Rae,” York bellows so loudly I’m jerked awake. “I fuckin’ raised you better than this.”
I rub my eyes, staring over at the time. It’s three in the morning. He’s just come home from work, I’m sure, but why he’d be yelling at Rae is beyond me. I push out of bed, sliding on my robe and making my way out into the hall where the yelling is coming from. York is standing in front of Rae, covered in a fine sheen of sweat, his fists clenched.
He’s so angry.
I’ve never seen him this angry.
He’s panting, he’s so wound up.
“Stop it, York,” Rae snaps, crossing her arms. “I’m not your child. I’m your sister.”
“A sister I
“York!” I cry, horrified.
I’ve never heard him speak to her like that. Not once. They’ve always been close. He’s always adored her. What the hell is happening? Who is this man?
York turns and glares at me. “None of your business, Maddie. Back off.”
“That’s your sister. Stop talking to her like that. What’s wrong with you?”
“She’s comin’ in late, hangin’ out with older boys, disrespecting me in my own fuckin’ home.”
“York,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm. “Stop. Please.”
“I’ve had enough. I’m working hard for this shit!” he barks, throwing his hands up.
“Rae,” I order. “Go to your room, don’t come out. Stop throwing sass, and just go to sleep.”
She scowls at me but does as she’s told and disappears into her room. York turns to me. “What did I just say about not interfering in my business?”
I don’t understand what’s happening. I’ve never seen this side to York before.
“Why are you screaming at her like that? You know she’s had a hard time, too. You know, so why would you make her suffer for it?”
He flinches. “She might have had a hard time, but she’s being a bitch lately. She’s using and abusing my hospitality. She has to grow up eventually. She can’t be out and about, whoring around ...”
“She’s fifteen, York!”
“Yeah, and at fifteen I was fucking working to keep us alive.”
I shake my head, horrified that he’s being so cold. So ... emotionless.
“I think you need to calm down—”
“Don’t you fuckin’ tell me to calm down,” he bellows, stepping forward and forcing my back against the wall. I stare up at him, fear lodged in my throat, my body stiff with it.
“York,” I whisper.
He shakes his head a few times and pushes off the wall. “Sorry,” he mutters. “Fuck. I’m going out.”
He turns and charges down the hall.
I watch him go then turn and stare at Rae’s door. She’s peering through it, her face blank, her eyes, though, oh, those eyes tell me that scared her as much as it scared me. She says nothing and closes the door quietly, leaving me alone in the hall.
Leaving me wondering what the hell has happened to my boyfriend.
BELLA JEWEL SERIES:
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