No one expected a nice family gathering to be interrupted by a thump at the front door. Or rather, no one expected that thump to come in the form of a battered, bleeding body.
One that Jack Stevens didn’t hesitate to haul inside the house.
Kate Reid knew that her sister’s husband didn’t have the cleanest record. He might have come from a rich family and an Ivy League school on paper, but Tia let on that some of that might not be true. It wasn’t a full out confession. Kate just gathered bits and pieces of information here and there, like piecing a puzzle together.
Obviously that puzzle was missing a few pieces. As in, large, gaping holes. The way Jack dragged the battered man inside made it obvious that the guy fit in one of those gaps.
“Jesus, god,” Tia exhaled from the hall.
Just behind them, in their perfect little kitchen, was a perfect all-American meal that she and Tia spent the better part of the day making. There was fucking yams for goodness sakes. And green beans. And peach pie for dessert.
They were celebrating Kate’s arrival in St. Paul. She’d literally arrived that morning, dumped her bags in the spare room, and kicked off the first day of her two-week vacation by cooking. Which wasn’t something she enjoyed. Or was good at. Somehow it had all come together and turned out alright.
And then Punching Bag Pete showed up and ruined it all.
Because no one, even the hardiest person, could have an appetite after looking at the guy’s wounds. He might have been a huge bastard, as in, the most obscenely jacked man Kate had seen in her entire life, but even granite muscles and a huge frame couldn’t save the guy from looking like he’d be a corpse in a matter of hours.
Jack bent over the guy and ripped open what had once been a red and black plaid shirt. It was still a red and black plaid shirt, but it sure as hell wasn’t good for anything after the blood stains were done with it. The worn in jeans the guy had on were in no better shape and no less stained. Dubious blackish purple spots competed with the dark brown stains that were probably blood. Huge black boots covered the guy’s feet.
He was a giant. A beast. A mountain of a man so that even Jack, who was equally as massive, had trouble pulling him into the house. His blonde hair was matted with so much blood it was pretty much impossible to guess at the natural color. The same went for his face. His eyes were swollen shut, purple circles forming underneath, probably compliments of a broken nose. His lips were split and there was bruising and swelling on his jaw and cheeks. His forehead had a huge cut on it that had already coagulated to the point of losing itself up.
It was a lucky thing for the poor bastard that it was April and a warm April at that. Minnesota wasn’t like Florida, where she and Tia grew up. It was rarely warm unless it was July or August.
“Jesus. He’s been shot in the shoulder.” Jack exclaimed as soon as he got the shirt open.
“It looks like someone beat the crap out of him,” Tia pointed out. Which was useless, because even a blind man could see the bruises, welts and cuts that ran over the entire surface of the guy’s chest, arms, and face.
Kate wished she could stand there and point out the obvious like her sister did. Her mouth dried up and her stomach revolved at the sight of the sticky blood coagulating around the wound. Unfortunately, hauling the guy in hadn’t done him any favors. A fresh, bright red trickle seeped from the gaping hole in his shoulder.
“Fuck,” Kate breathed. “That is gross.” Tia shot her a look and she shrugged innocently. “Who is he?”
Jack’s head shot up. “That isn’t important. A friend from the past, that’s all you two need to know.” He gripped the guy’s shoulder, the one that didn’t have a damn bullet hole in it and squeezed gently. There was a horrible, guttural, garbled up groan, like the guy was choking on blood, but the man’s eyes filtered open.
“Jack…” the fear in Tia’s voice was unmistakable and when Kate swiveled her eyes towards her petite sister, she found that her face was completely ashen. She held a hand up to her mouth, though she didn’t clamp it over her lips. “Are we- are we in danger?”
Jack leaned closer and inspected the wound. He didn’t turn to Tia. “I don’t know,” he said softly.
That hand at her sister’s mouth clamped down harder. Her normally wide eyes were as big as saucers as she glanced between her husband and Kate. Kate leaned against the wall, fighting a stomach that sloshed around at the gruesome sight before her. She couldn’t exactly feel sorry for the guy. When she took a second look, she realized what she should have known from the start. The guy probably wasn’t living on the right side of the law.
He had a mean look to him that couldn’t be mistaken through his swollen features. His boots gave him away. They looked like something Jack wore and the guy drove a bike in the few months it wasn’t snowing and had once run with a crowd that most people shouldn’t get mixed up with. At least, she thought so. Tia wasn’t exactly up front with that information. In short, he looked like a guy people didn’t want to fuck with. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that since the guy looked like a human piñata, some real bad shit must have gone down.
Kate rushed forward and grabbed her sister’s hand. She squeezed hard. “Don’t worry,” she breathed. She mustered up a whole hell of a lot of confidence she didn’t feel. “Everything is going to be okay. Jack’s not going to let anything happen to you.”
Jack’s neck cranked around. The guy was drop dead gorgeous. Tia wasn’t the kind of woman who normally was attracted to the whole Hollywood good looks thing. Although, Jack was clearly anything but Mr. Perfect underneath his blonde hair and chiseled features. He loved her sister, so Kate kept her mouth shut. The look on his face told her both that she was right and also that Jack was a whole lot meaner than she imagined. Did her sister know about this side of her husband? Kate might have suspected, but she’d never seen actual violence flash in her brother in law’s strange gray eyes.
She glanced at Tia’s face just as Jack shot them a tight nod and turned back to the guy leaking all over the white tile floor. The shock in Tia’s eyes told Kate all she needed to know. She clearly didn’t know everything about Jack. She knew enough and she’d accepted him and loved him for who he was, but she’d never expected this.
That made two of them. Hopefully not three.
Kate wasn’t the kind of person who stood idly by when she knew she was needed. Even if that meant getting her hands dirty. She just hoped she wouldn’t heave up her damn breakfast in the process. She dropped Tia’s cold as ice hand and stepped forward. “What can I do?”
Jack didn’t look back at her. “The bullet went clean through. He’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Where- where did he come from?” Tia stammered.
“I don’t know,” Jack answered. It was obvious that he wished he knew and he wasn’t as calm and cool on the inside as he was on the outside. Whatever his past was, it looked like it just showed up on the doorstep in the worst possible way.
Kate’s hands shook and her stomach sloshed. “I’ll help you lift him if we need to move him.” She turned to her sister. “Do you have a first aid kit? If not, a needle and thread and a bottle of anything hard should work.” Jack shot her a look as she bent down on the opposite side of the battered man. “What? I read it in a book, okay?”
His lips set in a hard line. “Right. Can you get me those things, Ti?” Jack turned to his wife and flashed her a calm, reassuring smile.
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” Tia disappeared down the hall and a loud banging echoed in the kitchen.
Jack’s smile died the second she left the room. It left Kate with a real bad feeling. She tried to concentrate on her hands, which moved uselessly, hovering over the guy’s plaid clad arm. “How did he even survive this long? How- I’m with Ti on this one. I want to know where he came from. How did he get here? There isn’t a car- did he- walk? It’s not like he could just get in a cab and demand to be brought here… how did he know where you live?” She shot an accusing look at Jack, but when his light eyes swept to her face, she realized that he genuinely was as confused as she and Tia were.
“I don’t know,” he said on a hard exhale. “All I know right now is that he better live long enough to tell us.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Kate was unable to keep the fear from leaching into her voice.
“Just what I said.” Jack swallowed hard and she knew that was straight up bullshit.
“No. No way. You think someone’s going to come looking for him? Someone from something you both were a part of?”
Jack reached up and checked the guy’s eyes. He must not have liked what he saw, since his lips tinned out. “Look,” he said without looking at her at all. “What I was a part of isn’t around anymore. Everyone got out because it ceased to exist. My guess is that some of the guys went and joined up with clubs elsewhere. Not everyone had the means to exist on their own after. For some guys, even if they did, that kind of lifestyle was the only one they ever knew. It might not be one everyone else agrees with or tries to understand, but for most of those guys, that’s the only family they’ll ever have.”
“Which is why you hauled him in without a second glance and haven’t called for an ambulance?”
“Right.” Jack shot her a look that silenced her. “No hospitals.” He looked towards the kitchen. “And please, don’t frighten your sister. I know that you’re a goddamn sharp tack and you like to ask questions. Don’t. For once in your life, just please don’t. The less you both know, the better.”
“I wasn’t asking too many questions!” Kate protested sharply.
“Yes. You were.”
“No. I have a right to ask whatever I need to at the moment. This guy is shot, beat to shit and laying in my sister’s entrance way. He’s not on death’s doorstep, he’s on yours and I love my sister, so I have a right to know what the fuck is going on.”
“No.” Jack shook his head. “You don’t. And I can’t answer your questions because I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”
“Wake him up then and I’ll ask him myself.”
Jack shook his head and actually rolled his eyes. It made Kate wonder what the heck he’d seen in his lifetime if he could actually find time to express sarcasm over the current situation. “Does it look like I can?”
Soft footsteps behind them announced that Tia was back. Kate shut her mouth. She bit down hard on her bottom lip to keep from asking any more questions. Jack was right. Tia didn’t need to get scared. He was just trying to protect his wife. Protect them both.
Tia let out a gasp of shock when she glanced down and noticed the blood on her husband’s hands. “Oh shit. Holy shit. That’s it. I’m calling for an ambulance.”
“No!” Jack and Kate both exclaimed at the same time.
Tia looked at them and her lips parted in shock. She glanced between them, her eyes sweeping over Jack’s face first, then Kate’s. She slowly shook her head and held out the bottle of whiskey, followed by a needle and black thread.
Kate let Jack handle the whiskey and she took the damn crafting supplies. “You any good at sewing?” she asked as Jack went about trying to disinfect the wound.
“Fuck no,” he grumbled. “Does it look like I’m into making pot holders and quilts?” He let out a low grunt as he hefted the big man off the floor and checked the other side of his back. “I could tell it was clean through from looking at the front. He was shot from behind, probably while he was trying to get away.”
Kate’s eyes widened. “How can you tell?”
“The wound. Different sizes. The entrance is usually smaller, cleaner. The exit is larger and messier.”
“I don’t even want to know how you know that.” Kate shook her head. “I’m going to be it wasn’t from a quick online search either.” She took a deep breath and regretted it instantly when the sharp metallic tang of blood filtered into her lungs. She had to swallow hard to keep bile from rising up into her throat. “Do you think we can actually do this? Sew him up and not have his shoulder fester and fall off?”
“Shoulders don’t fall off,” Tia moaned. “What if he gets blood poisoning or sepsis and dies?” She stalked back and forth in small steps, ringing her hands in front of her.
“I’m not trying to scare you, love,” Jack muttered under his breath as he glanced at his wife. “But the bullet wound is the least of our worries. We’ll patch him up and that’s as much as we can do. He might be bleeding out on the inside. I have no way of knowing what his organs are doing. He’s lucky that bullet missed his lungs and heart.”
“Oh god, oh god…” Tia gripped her hands harder, so hard that her fingers turned white. “What do you mean? We have to get him to the hospital.”
Jack slowly shook his head. “No. We can’t do that?”
“Why?” Tia challenged, on the verge of hysteria.
“Because.” Jack‘s mouth set in a hard line and the murderous glint that shone underneath the worry and fear in his eyes stunned Kate. Clearly it shocked her sister as well. “Whoever is looking for him will find him there and that will be the end of it. My club was probably one of the rosiest fucking clubs out there. It wasn’t really a club at all. Just a bloody gang with a bunch of thugs who were dumb as fucking door nails for the most part and even they hunted men down who tried to leave. This is probably much, much worse.” He stared pointedly at Kate. “Now. Ready to sew him up?”