Nicole walked in the front door of the little studio apartment and stood there for a few moments torn between her heart melting at the sight of her friend holding her sweet baby while they both slept, and being angry that the door had been unlocked and she’d walked right in. She knew that without Stacey she would had never made it this far, but sometimes her beautiful friend just didn’t get how dangerous things had gotten. She walked over to the rocking chair and touched Stacey on the shoulder. Her green eyes fluttered open and for a second she looked confused. When they finally focused on Nicole’s face she smiled.
“Hey, Nick, is it that time already?”
Nicole slid her arms underneath Stacey’s and took the sleeping baby out of them. For a second she just held him up near her face and breathed him in. The sight and the smell of her baby gave her strength, and God knows she needed it. Taking a seat on the couch and kissing the still-sleeping six-month-old angel on the forehead, she looked at Stacey. Her pretty, blonde, slightly disheveled friend was yawning and stretching. She had spit-up on the shoulder of her pink t-shirt and the messy bun she’d pulled her soft blonde hair up into looked like it had given out some time ago. Nicole felt bad again for being angry with her. Stacey had given up a lot to become a part-time nanny to Nicole’s son. She didn’t stay out all night partying any longer and she rarely had a man in her bed…which was new. Stacey watched little Liam five days a week while Nicole worked the morning shift at the bakery, and then she went to her own job in the evening and worked another eight hours…for little more than a lot of drama in return. Nicole bit back her anger and softly said, “You forgot to lock the door again, Stace.”
“Shit. I’m sorry. Liam and I were sitting on the front porch for a while before he started to get sleepy. I came in and fixed his bottle and the next thing I know you’re standing over me.”
And one of these days it might be Spider standing over her. “It’s okay. I don’t mean to be a nag, but even though we might think Spider doesn’t know where you live now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t. Spider has a way of knowing everything, sometimes before I do.”
Stacey stood. “You want a glass of wine?”
“No thank you. I should get Liam home…”
“He’s fine. He’s asleep. I’m fixing you a glass of wine and you’re staying for dinner. I’ll order pizza. Neither of us have work tomorrow, and that worry line between your eyes is deep today. Something happened.” Stacey didn’t wait for her response before going into the tiny little kitchenette and taking a bottle of wine out of the refrigerator. Nicole got up and went over to the bassinette in the corner. She kissed her baby’s soft face one more time before laying him down. She was still staring at him when Stacey came back over with two glasses of wine. She handed one to Nicole and then took out her phone and dialed a number. As she pressed it to her ear she said, “You can sit down and relax for a minute, babe. He’s not going to disappear.”
Nicole smiled at her friend and took a seat closer to the bassinette while Stacey ordered the pizza. The idea of Liam disappearing was her greatest fear, one that she lived with daily thanks to Spider. Each time he showed up, no matter how the conversation started, it ended with him making threats, telling her she’d never see her child again…the thought of that alone made her feel like she couldn’t breathe. He used those threats now, hoping she’d give in and come back to him, but one of these days she knew he’d tire of her, or kill her and she’d never see Liam again.
“Pizza is on its way,” Stacey said, tossing the phone aside and taking a sip of her wine. “Now start talking.”
Nicole smiled. “Everything’s fine, Stace. You know how I am…”
“Why do you make me drag it out of you? What did that piece of scum do this time?”
Nicole sighed. She didn’t want to talk about Spider…but since Stacey was as involved as she was by virtue of being Liam’s protector eight to ten hours a day, she needed to know. Maybe it would remind her to lock the door. “He came by the bakery today.”
“Shit. I thought Armand had a restraining order against him.” Armand was Nicole’s boss and the nicest man she’d ever known. He was protective of Nicole and Liam, and when asking Spider to stay away politely didn’t work, Armand had gotten a restraining order and promised the biker that he’d call the cops if he even saw him in the parking lot.
“He does, but he wasn’t there today…”
“So? The order is still in effect. Shit, Nicole, you have to start calling the cops on this guy. Maybe a few days in jail will give him a clue.”
Nicole chuckled sadly. “He’d only come out more pissed off and his absence from club business would just piss the rest of them off. So far Spider has kept the club out of it. I don’t want to make things worse.”
Stacey sipped her wine and sighed as she sat it down. “What did he want?”
“The same thing he always wants, to tell me that I belong to him and Liam belongs to him, and give me an ultimatum. He’s really pissed that I won’t tell him where we moved. It took me forty-five minutes to get here because I was scared to death he was following me.”
“Where was your bodyguard today?”
Nicole shuddered at the mention of Zack. The man had the kind of effect on her that most women pray for. Everything about him was sexy from his long, thick, disheveled brown hair to his light blue eyes and down to his incredibly hard body. But Nicole had almost the same reaction when she first met Spider, and that had worked out all bad. She wasn’t looking to repeat her mistakes. “He’s not my bodyguard.”
“So you keep saying. He and five of his closest friends…a few hot ones, I might add…packed up both of our apartments and moved us in the middle of the night. In the past two weeks, he’s spent more time at that bakery or outside of it than he probably has on his Harley. He’s got it bad, Nick, and he’s fucking hot. You think that Hashtag guy has an old lady?”
“An old lady’s life is not for you, babe. You value your independence too much. And we both know that hot isn’t enough.” When Nicole first met Spider, the fact that he was hot was what got her into trouble. His dark, almost black hair and gray eyes and smoking body had been all she could think about. She was barely eighteen and still living with her over-protective parents, so the excitement of the “bad boy” edge had factored in as well. She had been a good girl for too long and Spider made her want to change that almost overnight. After sneaking around with him for a month and a half, she packed her bags and told her parents she was leaving. Her mother cried and her father lectured. They begged and pleaded for her not to go. Her father threatened that she’d never be able to come back. Her mother told her that she was taking everything they’d ever done for her for granted, and ruining her future.
Nicole refused to listen to anything they told her about what a miserable life she’d have if she left Clarksville and moved to Memphis with Spider, however. By her nineteenth birthday, she was living with him and taking pride in the fact that she was his old lady. Her nightmares didn’t start until they’d been together for almost two years. Spider started drinking more and, Nicole suspected, using hard drugs. The first time he stayed out all night and didn’t call her, he came home smelling like cheap perfume and pussy. They’d gotten into a huge fight and that was the first time he hit her. She’d never been hit before in her life. He used the back of his hand, but he was so much bigger than her, it had knocked her to the floor. She was stunned by that, but even more so when he picked her up and took her to the bedroom. He told her that he was going to show her who was boss as he proceeded to rape her. When he was finished, he told her that from that moment on, she was keeping her mouth shut about what he did and who he fucked. He “owned” her, not the other way around. That night Nicole had waited until he went to sleep and then she’d gotten up and, taking nothing but her purse and her keys, she left the apartment. She’d taken a taxi to the bus station and another from the bus stop to her parents’ house outside of the Clarksville countryside. She got there just as the sun was coming up. Her father was picking up the morning paper as she stepped out of the taxi. He looked at her and went back inside the house without saying a word.
Nicole had almost left then, but she barely had cab money and Spider had sheltered her so much that she didn’t have any friends. The idea of going back and living with her rapist was almost more than she could stand. She had taken a deep breath, swallowed her pride, and followed him inside. Her mother took one look at her in her off-the-shoulder Black Sabbath t-shirt, cutoff jeans, and leather ankle boots and burst into tears. Her dad’s response was worse, however; he just refused to look at her. It didn’t take her long to figure out that going there had been a mistake. They’d washed their hands of her. She’d gone back to Spider that day and endured a second beating, even more severe, for leaving in the first place. Three months later she realized that she hadn’t taken her birth control pill the day that he raped her. She was pregnant and for the first few months after she found out, she waffled between wondering if a baby would “save them” and thoughts of taking her own life and the baby’s along with her. She looked over at the bassinette and shivered at the horrible thought.
“Hey, you still with me?” Stacey asked, bringing Nicole back to the present.
“Yeah, sorry. What did you say?”
“I said, Zack isn’t just hot. What guy goes out of his way to do all he did for you without asking for anything in return? I think he’s a good guy.”
“He’s a biker, Stace. I may have been naïve when I hooked up with Spider, but I’m not anymore; bikers do what they do and they don’t give a shit who they hurt while they’re doing it. Spider was good to me for almost two years and look how that turned out. I’m never going there again. I just need a few more months and then I should have enough money saved to get me and Liam out of here for good.”
Stacey looked sad. “I can’t believe you’re going to take off, with the baby who I love too, and I’ll never see you again.”
“Come with us.” Stacey didn’t have any family and she worked as the manager of a nightclub. She and Nicole had met one night when Spider had taken her there and after feeling up every half-dressed ho in the place, he picked one to go home with. On his way out the door with his ho, he had tossed Nicole a twenty and told her to “put her ass in a cab and be there when he got home.” Nicole found her crying at her table and the two women had quickly bonded. It was going to break her heart to leave her only friend behind, but Stacey loved her job and she was good at it, Nicole doubted that she’d be willing to leave.
Stacey smiled and said, “It’s tempting, babe, but you know I don’t like change. Changing apartments was almost too much for me. If not for you and that baby, I’d never have agreed. I love you and I understand why you have to go. I don’t understand, however, why you didn’t just do it when your hot bodyguard offered to take you anywhere you wanted to go that night.”
“Because then I’d owe him, Stacey. Hell, I already do for everything he’s done. But I plan on paying him back before I leave town and then washing my hands of anyone that wears a leather kutte and rides a Harley.” The sound of a knock on the door caused Nicole to almost jump out of her seat. Stacey gave her a concerned look and said:
“It’s just the pizza, babe.”
Nicole nodded. “Just make sure, before you open the door, okay?”
“Sure.” Nicole watched Stacey walk over and look out the peephole. When she pulled open the door and Nicole saw the young man with a Pizza Hut uniform, she breathed a sigh of relief. She reached over and pulled down the blanket that had worked its way up into Liam’s face. She couldn’t believe he was already six months old. He was growing fast, and she had to get them far away from Spider before he was old enough to be influenced by him. She was smiling when she heard Stacey scream. Instinctively she scooped up the baby before she turned, knowing Spider’s smiling face would be the next thing that she saw, even before she saw it.