We’re seen as bad and dirty because we prefer another way of life. We live for freedom and family, and not the cultish, biblical, nationalist bullshit so many people spout. It’s about the freedom of the road in front of you and the one at your back. It’s about the freedom to ride as a woman alongside men, as equals. They don’t like that I’m not a possession. They don’t like that I wear what I want and fuck who I want, just like my brothers do.
While you wait for the next book in the River Reapers MC series, here’s a special treat. This spooky short story can be read as a standalone whether you’re new to the MC or a longtime member (trigger- and spoiler-free)!
I’ve got one hour to get rid of a rat and get into costume, and my bike won’t start.
It’s my fault. I put it off too long. It’s just that this rat is my brother, someone like family even though I barely know him; being away for so long stripped me of that privilege. If we let him live, he’ll just cause more problems. It’d be stupid to let him hang around. One rat could bring down our entire club.
I’m not going anywhere if I can’t get my bike started, though. And if I’m late to this party, nothing will make it up to Olivia. She’s stressed the fuck out, scared that she’ll fail Shannon and Ravage. My job is to wear the dumb costume and host by her side, pretending we’re the cool couple who opens up our home to a town that doesn’t trust us on a good day. Shannon’s Haven is one of the positive things our club does that people actually see, and it’s what keeps the town from driving us out. It’s what keeps the police from raiding us. Because of all the people Shannon saves, we’re untouchable.
Another motorcycle pulls into the gas station, and I exhale in relief when I recognize the rider.
“You good, brother?” Donny calls out as he swings off his bike.
“Won’t start.” I throw up my hands. “Battery’s good and I just filled the fucking tank. I’m late,” I add.
“You take care of Ravage’s rat problem?” he asks, inspecting the bike.
“Better get on that.” He flips the kill switch back to off. “There ya go. Must’ve bumped it.”
I whistle. “I’m a fucking wreck.”
“If this is you on Halloween, I gotta see what you’ll be like on your wedding day.”
I look away. “It’ll never happen, brother.”
“Oh, I got a good feeling it will.” He claps me on the shoulder. “As long as you take care of that rat.”
“Why’s it gotta be me?” I ask him. “That’s usually your department.”
He chuckles. “Not in this case. That fucker’s chewed through everything in the dry storage, and he’s evaded all my traps.” His dark eyes meet mine. “Mercy said he heard you made friends with the rats in Lewisburg seg.” He holds a straight face for a moment, then busts out laughing.
“Fuck you,” I say, but I laugh too, only for a second. “It just seems cruel, to kill a guy who’s just trying to eat.”
“That guy bites one of the kids tonight, you’ll be singing a different tune.”
“My buddy doesn’t bite. I’ve hand-fed him cheese, for fuck’s sake.”
“That’s exactly why you gotta be the one to take him out. Fucker don’t trust no one else.” He pats me on the back again. “Clock’s ticking.” Turning, he goes into the gas station.
I ride over to the Mermaid and slip in among the chaos of a dozen club girls setting up. From somewhere I hear Pru delegating Olivia’s orders, and I grin with pride. Despite what Olivia thinks, my girl is running this; Shannon will be more than proud when she and Ravage walk in tonight, fresh from their mini getaway.
I close myself in the storage room, flipping on the light and standing still. A few seconds of silence pass, then I hear the telltale squeaking. A fat rat streaks out from the shadows, standing on his hind legs, nose sniffing the air.
This rat does not have any disease. He’s the cutest, friendliest little dude I’ve ever met. Maybe that makes me dirty and weird, the guy who makes friends with the lowest of the low. But it wasn’t that long ago that guys like him and me were equals, scraping by with whatever crumbs we could find, hiding in the shadows and biding our time. If I could, I’d take him home with me, but I’m pretty sure my landlord wouldn’t see him as a pet.
“Hey, buddy.” I hold out a hunk of cheese in my hand and, like usual, he comes right up to me. While he nibbles away, I scoop him into a rescue box and secure him. He scrabbles around inside, his squeaks accusing. “I know it, man.”
Swinging open the door, I pass him to the wildlife removal agent that I had meet me here. He’s a friend of Mark’s, so this’ll never get back to OSHA.
“I’m so sorry,” I tell the rat.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the agent tells me. “We relocate all our catches, unless there’s a reason not to.”
He carries the box to his van and I wish the little guy good luck. Then I go change, before I’m really late.
I stand in the guest bedroom, staring into the framed mirror leaning against the wall. Even this spare room has Shannon all over it, cozy and dreamy with just the right touch of gloom. I’m so out of place in this costume.
I should’ve added this to the list. I don’t know what Lucy was thinking, giving us these relics from her years with her baby daddy. She probably thought it was hilarious, and normally I would, too, but tonight’s not the night. We’re trying to show the town we are the good guys, even if our methods are a little—okay, a lot—questionable. This just feels like we’re rubbing it all in everyone’s faces.
The whole town knows what Cliff did. It’s why our business slowed when he got out—and our clientele is always down for a drink and lap dance. It’s why people give us dirty looks when they see us in public. The benefit rides we do every month help, but only so much. That’s why the Halloween bash is so important. It’s a yearly way for us to change how the town sees us. They can’t hate the club that shelters half the town’s women when their own men drink too much.
People hate us because we’re up front about who we are; all of us have committed crimes. The only difference is, none of our men have ever beaten a woman. The only woman we’ve ever touched was Esther’s mother, and she had it coming. We’re seen as bad and dirty because we prefer another way of life. We live for freedom and family, and not the cultish, biblical, nationalist bullshit so many people spout. It’s about the freedom of the road in front of you and the one at your back. It’s about the freedom to ride as a woman alongside men, as equals. They don’t like that I’m not a possession. They don’t like that I wear what I want and fuck who I want, just like my brothers do.
And they definitely don’t like what Cliff did to his own father.
They didn’t like what Bastard was doing to Lucy, either, but every one of them looked the other way.
Taking a deep breath, I smooth my sexy police uniform. At least the handcuffs will be fun, later—if Cliff actually shows up.
He’s vowed never to wear orange again, and I’d hope that means not even for me—on Halloween or any other circumstances. He’ll probably just come in his standard hoodie and T-shirt, proudly wearing his cut over all of it. Even though I don’t blame him, I’m a little bummed that we won’t be in matching costumes. I know it’s one of those dumb, sickeningly cute things that dumb, sickeningly stupid people do, but just for once I want to be those people so deliriously in love, they dress up together. We have so few normal things. I’ll never admit it out loud, but I secretly enjoy when we do them.
“Let it go,” I tell myself. “It ain’t happening.”
I slip on my thigh-high boots just as the doorbell rings. I hear Esther open the front door below, letting in the first wave of ticket holders. Their gasps of delight at the fog machine and spooky music drift up to me, and I smile. If nothing else, I did a damn good job of arranging all of Ravage’s Halloween decorations. It’s not what it usually looks like, but that’s because I’m not Shannon. I’m me.
And I did it my way.
Joining everyone downstairs, I realize I am a little worried Cliff didn’t show. It’s not like him, and the last time he disappeared, I let Stixx set a building on fire when we found him. I get a little crazy when my baby’s in trouble. He, on the other hand, becomes totally unhinged if anyone even breathes wrong in my direction. I’ve seen him go from sweet and sensitive to protectively violent in zero seconds flat. I’ve never seen him blow me off. Even when we were broken up, he showed up for me.
I’m torn between concern and scorn when the door opens and he steps inside, his face blank while I take in what he’s wearing. He’s dressed in an orange jumpsuit, with “inmate” stamped across his back. With his long black hair down and the scar on his face, I can see the angry, lonely man he must’ve been when he was inside. He had every right to be. It destroys me a little every time I think about him ever being unloved and secluded, this sweet man who’s helped me shower when I was too shellshocked to move, and cuddles our tiny niece while singing to her—after changing her diaper, and no one even asked.
I’m supposed to say something, to lighten the moment somehow, but I’m struck speechless by how much it must’ve taken him to put on his “costume.” Even if he doesn’t talk about it, I know that being in prison for two decades did a number on him. He pretends he’s okay just so that Lucy, I, and everyone else don’t worry about him. I also know when he doesn’t sleep at night because he’s dreaming of Lewisburg again.
So I don’t crack a joke. I just close the distance between us, throw my arms around his neck, and pour everything I’m feeling into the kiss I breathe into his lips. “Thank you,” I whisper in his ear. “You didn’t have to do this.”
His palms cup my ass. “You have handcuffs,” he says with a grin, appreciating my sexy cop costume. “I definitely had to do this.”
“Get a room,” Esther says with a wink. A second later, Donny grabs her ass, and it looks like a pair of Converses are making out, because each of them is wearing a giant shoe.
The girls—vampire Cierra, witchy Abril, and the cutest ghost ever, Ximena—pretend to be disgusted, but they wear matching smiles. It’s so good to see them happy.
Lucy and Stixx shuffle in, with Bunny in the costume I ordered her months ago. I told them they had to match her, and holy shit, they actually did it. She’s wearing tiny boxing gloves and a matching red headband and shorts, with a white onesie. A spot of red still stains one of her legs. Stixx is dressed as her coach, and Lucy is a ring girl.
“I didn’t think you’d actually go for it!” I laugh. “I fucking love you guys.”
No one else in our club is sharing a theme. Beer Can is a dwarf from Lord of the Rings. Mark has a pair of vampire fangs in one of his pockets. Skid is dressed as one of the Men in Black. Vaughn and Cami came separately, but they’re both Boba Fett. Abraham must’ve lost a bet with Vaughn, because he’s wearing a rainbow tutu and a scowl.
Bree and Mercy come late, but their cheeks are flushed and she’s wearing the same witch costume she’s been rocking since I was a kid. Occasionally he steals her hat and pretends he’s her wizard.
Dozens of people come through the house, and between the ticket sales and baskets raffle, I’m pretty sure we’ve made at least what Shannon pulls in every year. I sneak into the kitchen for a celebratory drink, finally feeling like I can let loose.
The back door opens and Shannon steps inside. “Honey, we’re home.” She engulfs me in a hug, her witch costume almost identical to my mom’s.
They’re so similar, yet one stayed and the other left. “Thank you for doing this.”
“Any time. Did you have fun?”
“Yes,” she says, her eyes misting a little. “It was good to spend some time together. I missed him, crazy as that sounds.”
“I know what you mean,” I say, peering through the passthrough at all of my family together.
Ravage steps in through the back door, and I hug him hello. His face is painted as a skull.
“Seriously?” I tease. “How’s this any different from every other day? You did a good job, though.”
“You did good, kid,” he says, one arm still around me. “I knew everything would be safe in your hands. Both of your hands,” he adds as Cliff ducks into the kitchen.
Ravage steps away and Cliff’s arms take his place. It’s almost as if I’ve been passed from father to groom. Ravage and Shannon stand arm in arm, smiling over at us. A dreadful sort of deja vu locks my limbs for a moment, and then the Halloween playlist changes tracks and the ghoulish laughter grounds me in the moment. I have the whole night to look forward to, hours in Cliff’s arms, surrounded by the kids’ laughter and the wash of voices as everyone talks at once. I lean back into him, content.
I ignore the way everyone is looking back at me, because if I look too closely, I’d realize none of this is real.
More books in the River Reapers MC are coming…
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