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Break Free (Steel Veins MC Book 3) by Jackson Kane, Leanore Elliott (1)


 

Chapter One

Star

 

“The patient is stable,” Doc as he’d introduced himself when Shawn the EMT and I carried Remy inside reported as he peeled off his latex gloves and tossed them directly onto a small pile of indistinct refuse in the large, ominous metal incinerator built into one of the walls. “He will need several more weeks of bed rest and will be sore for a few months. Also, the patient seemed upset, so I was forced to sedate him. Heavily.”

“Yeah, well...” I almost chuckled at the thought. Who wouldn’t be pissed off if he was nearly killed by bikers. Or by anyone for that matter. “He was shot four times.”

“Five! One glanced off the patient’s face,” Doc tapped rapidly at his cheek. He was an intense, gaunt man with a ghostly pale complexion. Balding with thick glasses, he was the type of man you’d expect to see working at a funeral parlor. “The patient should avoid extraneous activity of any kind for at least a month or two.”

“I’ll certainly have my work cut out for me.” I didn’t care about the work as long as Remy made it. I’d probably regret it, but I couldn’t help but to ask, “Are you really a doctor?”

To say this place was unorthodox would have been the equivalent of calling the Statue of Liberty a lawn ornament. We were in the basement of Hall’s Taxidermy, the creepiest place I’d ever seen in my entire life. I forced Shawn to reassure me several times that we’d arrived at the correct place before I let him leave.

“Does it matter?” Doc asked in an unnerving skepticism. His insomniac eyes were sunken and encased in loose, purple skin. Although I was sure his question was rhetorical, he regarded me expectantly as he took his glasses off and thumbed away a few errant droplets of Remy’s blood from the lenses.

A sharp chill tore up my spine.

With sharp, pronounced features, this man could’ve stepped directly out of a horror film. “I was able to remove all the bullets from the patient. They are in the jar on the shelf. You will be taking them when you leave.” He cleaned his hands and pointed to a dimly lit screw-top glass mason jar between a box of various furs and what looked like a milk crate of animal jaws.

Although the operating area was very well lit, he saw me struggling in the low periphery light of the rest of the room. He flicked the switch on another fluorescent bulb so that I might see it better. I wish he hadn’t. My eyes hesitantly flitted around the room. It was large enough to be both a work space and a storage area. The animals down here were in various states of either disrepair or dismemberment, and each was hideously contorted with anguish, fear, or fury.

I caught a shiver. This place couldn’t be any creepier.

There was no fucking way that people actually bought these freaky stuffed animals, so Doc must’ve made his real money by mending outlaws disposing of bodies. This place looked like it had been around for quite awhile which was probably a testament to the gaunt man’s ruthless efficiency.

“I stemmed the internal bleeding as well,” Doc said which jerked me back to reality. “The shooter managed to miss most of the patient’s major organs. Though not due to lack of trying. I will still need to clean and fully close the wounds. I will require him to stay here another day.”

“Another day... ” I repeated distantly to myself as I squeezed Remy’s hand, checking him over. Remy was laid out, bare to the waist, on a crimson-stained, steel table. His breathing and pulse rate were surprisingly strong despite all the wounds. For as beaten up as he looked right now, I knew it would somehow take far more than this to actually kill Remy Daniels.

He would be back on his feet in no time. At least that’s what I’d drilled into my head like a mantra on the way over here.

Truth was—I had never been more scared in my life. Even when I was on the verge of being raped or killed, I could emotionally handle it, at least, eventually. But this…

This was a different kind of fear entirely – that middle-of-the-night phone call kind of fear. It had felt like there was a howling pit in my stomach and my skin was trying to tear itself from my bones and run away without me.

It was that not-knowing that was killing me.

“My fee is ten thousand,” Doc announced. “Cash.”

“What?" I knew it was going to be expensive, but ten thousand dollars was insane! Where the hell were we going to come up with that?

“Non-negotiable. I will need it tomorrow by six in the evening. No loose ends.” Doc was completely unfazed by my shock.

“That’s a lot of money to come up with in a day and a half! We need more time than that.” For some reason, I reached into the pocket of the swishy, bright yellow jacket that I had taken off the ambulance like I thought the strip club money I’d put in there had magically multiplied somehow. Feeling the small wad of greasy paper in my hand made me realize just how fucked we were. Neither of us had had anywhere near enough to make a dent in the amount we needed.

“If you value the patient’s life, you will find a way.” Doc rolled Remy’s table to next to another loading table that was affixed to a metal track. The long track fed into the human-sized incinerator. Remy was helpless. One good shove and Remy could’ve easily been rolled onto that track.

It was a sobering and terrifying thought.

“Six p.m. and no later. My table is reserved. One way or another, paid for or deceased, this patient will be removed from this table come tomorrow at six p.m.” The matter-of-fact threat was even more bone chilling when Doc closed the open metal door of the incinerator and fired it up.

The machine roared to life, rumbling and vibrating the entire room.

“Fine! Fine! We’ll figure it out.” I glanced frantically down at Remy.

We’ll? Remy was barely conscious. I’d have to figure it out this time. That’s when it occurred to me that Remy’s fate was completely in my hands. I was all alone in this.

A buzzer rang out, breaking the rising tension. It was the sound from when a person walking into a small store which activated a sensor, sending down a ring over the speakers in the basement.

Doc snapped his attention over to a black-and-white monitor tucked away in the corner. “If you’ll excuse me.” He adjusted the bowtie he was wearing that had been malpositioned from his work on Remy, and made his way to toward the stairs before turning to address me one last time. “You have five minutes before I resume work on the patient. The room is soundproof, but it would still behoove you to remain quiet down here while I deal with customers. Do not touch anything.” With that, the thin man resumed his walk up to the store.

“What am I going to do, Remy?” I whispered my plea into his ear, kissed him, then rested my forehead lightly on his. A million insane ideas stampeded through my head. Rob a bank, extort some rich guy, blackmail a politician, bring a car to a chop shop, sell drugs. They were all bad TV drama ideas that fell apart as quickly as I thought of them.

Without Remy, I was completely out of my depth. I didn’t even know where to start.

“One-fifty-seven... Logan.” I whipped my head up at the soft sound of his voice. I hated how far away he sounded. Remy was still fucked up on the drugs Doc gave him, but even still, I could tell he was in a tremendous amount of pain. His eyes were closed, and his words were barely a whisper. “Boise... City. Grace...” The sound cut out, but I was able to catch the rest of the address and the name off his still-moving lips.

“Remy, What is at one-fifty-seven Logan in Boise City? Is it money? Remy, who is Grace?” How much of my conversation with Doc had he heard? Was this the address of a friend of his that if I explained the situation to, I’d be able to borrow the money? Or maybe it was just the delirious ramblings of a man who’d been shot a lot and was on some heavy-duty drugs.

I tried to get anything else out of him, but it was no use, Remy was out of it. I became crazy-nervous all of a sudden. What if in his delirium, he was sending me back to a Steel Veins clubhouse by accident just because the address was etched into his brain and he had once remembered it as a place of safety? I had absolutely no idea what or who might be waiting for me in Boise City, but I didn’t have any better ideas.

I had to trust in Remy.

I kissed his forehead one last time, and I let him go. He squeezed my hand with all the strength he could muster before attempting to tell me something else, but the words were strained and I couldn’t make them out. I leaned in closer, but with all his strength used up, Remy finally passed out once again.

It was obviously a location which meant that he understood at least some of the conversation. I hoped that was what it meant. Either way, it was a starting point! I could work with that.

I heard the buzzer again. Whoever that person was that came in was now leaving. I left Remy and ran for the door. Hall’s Taxidermy was out in the middle of nowhere. I’d need a ride into town, and whoever that was might be my only chance.

I brushed past a seemingly perpetually scowling Doc and burst out into the street. A soon-to-be confused, late middle-aged man was just getting into a pickup truck when he saw me awkwardly running-jogging toward him. The black leather heels I wore actively tried to kill me with every step. Aside from the EMT jacket that was four sizes too large and bright enough to be seen from space, I was still wearing my green, plaid schoolgirl skirt and short-sleeve top stipper’s costume.

I was the definition of hot mess.

“Ma’am, are you all right? What happened to you?”

“I’m... I just really need to get into town. Can you give me a ride?”

“Yes, of course!” Concern was wallpapered across the man’s face. There was no situation worse than where a girl dressed like me comes running out of a taxidermy shop, that was a fucking horror show. “Are you sure you’re okay? Should I call the police? That man in there, he didn’t—”

“No! No! He didn’t.” Oh, explaining this was going to be fun, I thought sardonically. “I was just using his phone. I... this is really embarrassing. I’m... a PNM. A Potential New Member for a sorority at my college, and last night was, like, a crazy hazing.”

“I see.” No doubt, he now saw me as a wayward daughter-type. I prepared myself for a youth-nowadays conversation or some passed judgmental comments, but blessedly, none came. While he obviously disagreed with that kind of behavior, he kept his thoughts to himself. He asked where I wanted to go. I told him, and later on, he wished me well when he dropped me off.

Fortunately, the bus station was near a bunch of little shops. It was still too early for the first bus, so after I bought my ticket to Boise City, I went shopping for some clothes that didn’t scream, “I woke up at a strip club” or “Please return me to the trunk you found me in.” After a little asking around, I was able to find a thrift store which was really all I could afford.

I cut across a small patch of desert to get there, and it turned out that the store, called Mi Casa, was actually part of someone’s house. The owner and sole employee was a woman named Estefania. She was nice enough to offer me a cup of tea and a freshly made enchilada while I tried on some garments. When I picked out something and paid, she granted mercy on me and let me take a quick shower.

The least visually offensive clothing I could find was a pair of acid-washed jeans and a turquoise, “Is it Monday again?” goofy, cartoon cat T-shirt. There weren’t any bras, but I did find a pair of sneakers that were only one size too big.

Anything to get me out of those damn heels.

It felt so good to be clean and to wear pants again. I donated the nice EMT jacket and threw away all the other disgusting clothes I was wearing. Knowing where these garments had been, I’d have burned them if given the option.

Surprisingly refreshed, I headed back to the bus station and waited to board. I had a long ride ahead of me.

“Oh, you have to be fucking kidding me.” I ran a hand over my face and adjusted my glasses. Was I seeing this right? I was standing at one-fifty-seven Logan Street in front of Our Lady of Resurrection church.

Seriously, Remy? You gave me directions to a church?

Remy didn’t strike me as a particularly God-fearing person. I wasn’t one to talk, either. I mean, I went to church a lot when I was in elementary school but probably not for the best reasons. My family wasn’t religious, but my best friend was Baptist, and they let me go with her to church every Sunday. The service was extremely dry to the point that staying awake for the whole thing was a challenge. However, as a reward for mostly not causing trouble during mass, my friend’s parents would always take us to Taco Bell afterward.

That was huge for me because my parents never let me have fast food growing up. To this day, despite the food being kinda gross there, Taco Bell will always have a special place in my heart.

Now I’ve come back to church, and again, it was under false pretenses. Well, if I’m going to Hell for it, at least saving Remy is a better reason than fake Mexican fast food.

I strolled around the two-part building, praying to find whatever the hell I was supposed to without having to actually go inside. The church, a long, rounded metal shed that looked like a small airplane hangar, was attached to a one-story, blue building, probably the rectory for whoever ran the church. The whole mess squatted by a flat, lonely, intersection with only distant brick homes and a smattering of telephone poles to keep it company. Aside from half a dozen resting or forgotten trailers in the parking lot and an ancient dumpster, the area around the church was barren of all life.

“Goddammit...” I sighed. I had to go in.

I had spent almost everything I had to get here, so there was no turning back. I couldn’t even go back to Remy now without stealing a car. I needed to somehow leave this church with at least ten thousand dollars, and I had to do it quickly. I didn’t have much time left, either. Between delays and having to switch buses and find a taxi for the last leg of the trip, that four-hour journey turned into a sixteen-hour expedition! If I was being honest, part of me was grateful for the downtime. It allowed me to steal some much needed sleep which, since meeting Remy, was more precious than gold.

Hesitantly, I opened the old wooden door with the painted cross. What day was it? I had lost track. There were a few other vehicles in the parking lot as well, and it would be my luck to barge in on a Sunday mass.

God, I hoped not.

The door’s rusted springs sang my entrance like shabby trumpets. So much for a stealthy entrance! Turns out that didn’t matter. The few people that knelt in the pews didn’t bother looking up but just continued praying silently.

Despite the sad exterior, the chapel inside was beautiful! The expertly crafted and meticulously maintained wooden statue of Jesus hung crucified above the vibrant velvet-draped altar. The wood paneling on the walls and floor were newly installed and still held a polished shine.

This place was a legit diamond in the rough.

In the deathlike silence of that room, my every footfall sounded thunderous along the redwood flooring. My suddenly racing pulse was driving rain, and my ears were a tin roof. I didn’t know why I was so nervous. I guess I felt guilty for just being here. This was a church, and in essence, I was planning on stealing something from it. It felt wrong on every level, even if I did recognize what was at stake if I left empty-handed.

Robbing a bank felt more and more morally righteous the longer I stayed.

What the hell was I even looking for? The new ornate clock just above a plain, old confessional booth read twelve noon. I had six hours to be back at Doc’s, paying for Remy’s life, with money I didn’t have!

The only way I was going to make it now was if I rented a car, again with money I didn’t have! I felt that lingering hope start to unravel, leaving me frustrated and angry. Angry at the situation, at the Lobos, but mostly, I was angry at myself for not being able to figure this out.

Angry at myself for not being able to save Remy.

I sat in the front row, dropped my head into my hands, and fought back the tears. They came anyways. After all he’d done for me, I couldn’t help him when he needed me most.

“Are you all right, child?” I felt a warm hand on my shoulder.

I looked up at the soft features of a handsome, elderly priest. “No, Father. I am not.”

“What ails you, my dear?” He then sat beside me.

I let my gaze lift to the statue of Jesus. “I have a—” What did I even call Remy? What was he to me? Was he my boyfriend? My lover? “—a friend who desperately needs my help, and try as I might, I don’t think I can help him.”

“Matters of the heart are always the heaviest. Has this friend of yours lost their way?” the priest asked in hushed tones so as not to disturb the people praying.

“I guess so? He’s just... He’s just really hurt and I need to—” The name Remy gave me. Maybe I was supposed to find that woman and speak with her. “Father?”

“Yes?”

“Are there any women that work here or come here often by the name of Grace?”

The priest briefly pondered on the name, but quickly shook his head. “None to my knowledge, but I’ve only recently joined this church. I’m covering for Father Jameson while he recovers from illness.”

“Oh.” So much for that. Depending on how recent, Remy would have no idea about the change in management. A blanket of sorrow threatened to smother me.

“I’m sorry, child. Is there anything else I can do for you?” The priest’s thick eyebrows arched up in empathy.

“Not unless you’re good with miracles, Father.” I changed the subject and gave the impossible a shot, “You don’t happen to have to ten grand lying around here, do you? Maybe on loan from an outlaw biker gang?”

The priest chuckled at what could only be a joke. He realized he was being too loud, quietly apologized to those praying, then turned back to me and pantomimed turning out his empty pockets.

I offered him an empty, defeated half-smile – not on purpose, but it was just all that I had left. I didn’t know if I would be able to push through the failure I felt in my heart. I ached for Remy so badly. “You have a beautiful church.” Meekly, I changed the subject, in fear of more condolences.

“Thank you. The renovations were just completed. Father Jameson hasn’t even seen the fruit of his labor yet. Praise be to God for sending us the generous donations of a kind-hearted soul.”

“Do you know who the donated the money?” I perked up.

“Whoever it was, they wanted to be kept anonymous, I’m afraid. A truly, selfless act. The Lord shines on whoever he is.” The priest leaned in a little with smiling eyes and added hopefully, “Maybe it was one of those motorcyclists you mentioned.”

He obviously didn’t believe me, but he was a kindly old spirit so his comment came off as good-natured not patronizing.

The renovations are complete? That’s odd. It was extremely out-of-place that the confessional booth would remain same when everything else in the interior of the church had gotten overhauled. There must be a reason why.

“Father, would you allow me into the booth there? I’d like to pray for my friend, and I get really anxious when I do it in front of people.”

“Of course, my dear. Whatever you need.” The priest gently touched my shoulder again and left me.

I pulled back the threadbare red curtain, stepped inside the tiny booth and closed it behind me. Why wouldn’t this place be renovated like everything else? I searched each square-inch of the dull, chipped wooden walls, screen, and bench. And then there it was. A name.

Grace.

It was carved on the front side of the bench. The text was very small. It was something you’d really have to be looking for it to find it. This was it. This was what Remy wanted me to find!

The seat of the bench was a rectangular piece of plywood held together with only a few nails. They were loose enough that, with a little work, I was able to pop them out, remove the board and look inside.

Empty.

NO! I almost screamed in frustration! How could it be empty? Whatever it was, it needed to be here! This was it! It had to be! Grace should’ve been Remy’s salvation.

Utterly dejected, I left the church immediately. I couldn’t even get back to Remy before Doc overdosed him or whatever that psychopath was going to do before immolating him.

I made it as far as the middle of the intersection before I let gravity pull me down to the cracked pavement. I couldn’t bear it. I wanted a truck to come barreling down the road and crush me like I had done to that biker.

“Miss!” I faintly heard the elderly priest’s voice behind me, but I couldn’t face him. I didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. He repeated once again, “Miss?”

I heard something heavy hit the ground behind me.

“Your friend,” the man asked, huffing with exertion. “What is his name?”

“Remy.” I nearly choked hearing the name out loud.

“Was his last name Daniels?” the priest asked.

“How did you know that?” I turned, surprised but skeptical. There in front of me was a loaded duffel bag at the feet of the winded priest.

“After we spoke, I called Father Jameson to inquire about the woman you’d asked for – Grace. He asked if the person doing the asking had gone into the confessional. When I told him that you had and how you seemed distraught, he told me there was a bag in the closet of his office. Father Jameson thinks that whatever’s in that bag might be meant for you.”

I peered at the sack. “Grace” was stitched into the handle. I unzipped a corner, opened a sliver to what was inside, and my eyes went wide. The bag was full of banded stacks of green paper.

This was Remy’s salvation!

“Why wasn’t this in the bench? It had the name carved in it and everything. Did you know what was inside?” I blurted out at length, quickly zipping it back up and looking around.

“No, no. I trust Father Jameson’s judgment. The contents of the bag are none of our concern.” He waved away the notion emphatically. “Apparently, I was mistaken about the renovations being finished. Father Jameson had planned to have a new confessional booth built and installed but fell ill just soon after the project was started. Knowing he wouldn’t be present during its completion, he moved the bag so that no one would accidentally stumble across it in his absence.”

“I understand.” Even if it did give me a fucking heart attack.

“He also told me to offer any assistance you might need. Is there anything you need?”

“Uh, yeah, I need to get back to Santa Fe by six.”

To my utter surprise, the priest pressed a set of car keys into the palm of my hand. No way, seriously?

The priest pointed to the parking lot. “It’s the station wagon. Come,” he said gently and helped me up. “Let’s get you out of the street. Most truckers around here drive far too quickly to be able stop in time. Even for women as handsome as yourself.” The priest winked, then smiled gently and beckoned me to join him as he walked toward the car.

It reminded me of when my grandfather would wink at me after he’d sneak me an extra piece of candy right before dinner when my parents weren’t looking.

The corners of my mouth creased into a distant smile with warm remembrance.

“Thank you for this, Father.” I tossed the bag onto the passenger’s seat and kissed the priest’s cheek. He blushed. It was sweet. His goodness reminded me of Gloria back at Muse’s Place.

I really hoped she was doing all right.

“Hey. I thought you said the donation was anonymous? How’d you know it was Remy that paid for the work to be done?” I raised an eyebrow at the priest. It felt odd that a man of the cloth might’ve been caught in a lie.

“I asked Father Jameson that very question.” He nodded, satisfied that we thought alike. “His response was… elusive. However, my guess would be that Our Lady of Resurrection church doesn’t get many motorcyclists. Mr. Daniels probably wasn’t one to be easily forgotten.”

There was no one else like Remy, that’s for sure.

“Amen.” I grinned.

“Oh, Father Jameson would like you to thank our mysterious benefactor for breathing new life into the old bones of Our Lady of Resurrection. He also said to mention that should he ever like to rejoin the choir, the doors are always open for him. Father Jameson tells me Mr. Daniels had a lovely singing voice as a child.”

“I’ll let him know.” Now I couldn’t contain my beaming smile. It was hard to imagine Remy belting out the Catholic hymnal hits with the other boys, but I did love the thought of it.

“There is a map in the glove compartment. Go with God, my child.”

I waved to the retreating priest and quickly plotted the course on the map. There was no time to spare, but I needed a peek. Just before I took off, I checked to make sure no one was in the area and unzipped the bag all the way. It was full to the brim with money and also had a couple guns, a knife, a change of clothes, a half a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of whiskey, and a frayed copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I zipped it back up, smiled again, and took off for Santa Fe.

I found your bag of tricks, Remy. Hold on! I’m on my way!

Five-thirty. With a half hour to spare, I turned down the side road that led to the taxidermy shop. A bike and a sedan whipped by me, heading in the opposite direction. I could tell by the rider’s vest that they were Lobos. Were the Lobos Doc’s six p.m. appointment? If so, then what happened to Remy?

Now I was getting nervous. This Doc guy was obviously unhinged. Who knows if he’s the type of person to honor a verbal agreement? The grisly thought of Doc chopping Remy up and mounting his head to the wall was completely ridiculous, but it scared the shit out of me nonetheless. I drove a little faster.

The sooner I could pay this psychopath and get Remy out of there, the better.

I wasn’t taking any chances. I tucked the pistol that I found in Remy’s bag into the back of my jeans and slung the bag over my shoulder. The pressure of the gun was tight against my back, and it dawned on me that I really didn’t know how the hell to use this thing. I’d only ever fired a gun once when I shot Rio, and that was almost completely luck. I had no idea where the safety was or even how to activate it. If we ever got a damn moment to breathe, Remy was going to teach me how to handle a gun. It seemed to be a necessary skill in the MC lifestyle.

The buzzer noise sounded when I pushed open the door. The store was empty, but I could feel Doc’s beady eyes on me through the camera. Dusk had begun stretching across the horizon, and Hall’s Taxidermy had entered that lighting limbo where it was still slightly too bright to merit turning the house lights on but slightly too dark to feel like you were in a retail store and not a haunted house, waiting to be torn apart.

Every wall in the showroom was covered in dead animals, even more so than the basement. The shadows thrown by the dying light filtering into the room was just enough to rob the animals of that cheap, still-just-a-statue quality. Everything was cast in an eerie state of terrifying realism. Reflected light made dozens of hate-filled, glassy eyes flash from the recesses of dark sockets. Monstrous predators of all types were poised, muscles taut, just waiting for the right moment to pounce on an unsuspecting victim.

I gingerly picked up my pace as I made my way to the basement door.

The unmistakable sound of a hacksaw cutting through bone greeted me as I opened the bulkhead door. The sense of growing dread that, despite it all, I still hadn’t made it to Remy in time made my ribcage feel like it had halved in size and was strangling me from inside out.

The gun found its way into my clammy hands.

Doc was hunched over the metal table with his back to me, and he was vigorously cutting through the head off a body. Oh my God, I was too late!

He had killed Remy!

I felt myself raising the pistol. I wasn’t in control any longer. I was now just a horrified passenger in my own body. I watched as grief, fear, and rage took over my limbs. This man had to die.

A familiar, roughly-calloused hand slowly grabbed and lowered my arm. I was wound so tightly that I wouldn’t have been surprised if my scream had shattered glass.

“It’s okay, Star. I’m okay.”

It was Remy! He was awake and, more importantly, he was alive!

“Keep the woman silent while I work,” Doc irritably barked, never breaking concentration from his sawing

“But—but I thought…” I said quietly as I dragged both of our gazes back to the body being sawed in half.

“Just an unlucky bastard that the Lobos brought in.” Remy’s voice was a labored husk of what it was before. “They’ll send the head as a message and have Doc cremate the rest.”

“Why the hell did you scare me?” My adrenaline was finally fading, but still being mad at him for startling me, I reflexively punched him in the shoulder.

His eyes narrowed and his jaw set as he grimaced through the pain. I felt terrible, but Remy didn’t recoil as much as a man who was shot five times should’ve.

“Ohmygod! I’m so sorry!” Immediately realizing how shitty that was, my hands sprang out in front of me to console him. I stopped them from touching him again because I was afraid I might hurt him more, so they just hung in the air awkwardly.

Remy breathed for a moment and worked through it. He touched his shoulder to make sure nothing had reopened, then his face slowly unscrewed into a genuine smile. A smile that, despite my stupidity, meant he was glad to see me. He then pulled me in for a hug, and it was the best feeling in the world.

“I couldn’t let them see me when they brought the body in, so I hid behind some boxes.” Remy favored his left arm and ribs while struggling just to stand. Still, he was a lot less fucked-up than when I left him. I honestly didn’t expect to find him standing at all, let alone moving about. He had to be on some really good drugs.

“Do you have my money?” Doc finally turned toward us, blood splattered his biohazard coverall as his head cocked down to look at us over his thick-lensed glasses. “Well?”

“Yes! Christ! Give me a damn sec.” I’d almost just shot this man in the back of the head because I thought he killed my—whatever Remy was to me. I needed a moment to switch gears. I fished out ten-thousand from the bag and slapped it down on the table.

He peeled off his gloves, expertly tossing them in the incinerator. He strode over, snatched up the bundles of money, and began counting to make sure it was the right amount and not counterfeit. “Yes, yes. You may leave,” Doc abruptly stated when he’d finished verifying the money was legitimate.

Fine by me. I was eager to put this freak show behind us.

“Wait.” He put it all in a safe embedded into the floor and handed me a mason jar with bullets he’d taken out of Remy.

“Gross.” I held up the jar. The bits of metal were all deformed from punching into Remy and were covered in dried blood.

“You’re just jealous you didn’t get a souvenir.” Remy’s tone would’ve followed with a smirk, but he was grimacing too much from the exertion of going up the stairs which was a very slow process. He was still in really rough shape, but feeling his weight on me as I helped him along was exactly what I needed.

“Yeah.” I smiled for the both of us instead. “Now I need to find you a shirt that says ‘I got gunned down by a Mexican biker gang and all I got were these lousy bullets.’ ”

“Ow, fuck!” Remy growled through a pained chuckle as we made our way out to the station wagon. “Don’t make me laugh.”

Remy would have a long road to recovery ahead him, but I’d be there every step of the way.