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2016
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Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9780698190399
Series:
Outlaws 3
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PRAISE FOR ELLE KENNEDY’S KILLER INSTINCTS SERIES


			“Fans will be eager to see what Ms. Kennedy has in store for her mercenaries.”

			—Shannon K. Butcher

			“The entire series is a recommended read for those who enjoy romantic suspense with a dark, dangerous edge.”

			—Fresh Fiction

			“Takes readers on a terrific emotional roller coaster ride full of relentless action, heated sexual tension, and nail-biting plot twists . . . Breathless passion will leave the reader begging for more.”

			—Publishers Weekly

			“Each book has been suspenseful, heartbreaking, and full of sexy times.”

			—Fiction Vixen

			“As sexy as it is exciting. Elle Kennedy hits all the right notes in . . . her outstanding Killer Instincts series . . . spellbinding romantic suspense.”

			—Joyfully Reviewed

			“[Kennedy] shows a real flair for penning thrillers that are passionate, gritty, and extremely suspenseful.”

			—RT Book Reviews (top pick)

			“Seduction, sex, and suspense—Elle Kennedy is a master at blending all three . . . [The] Killer Instincts series is dark, sensual, and extremely compelling.”

			—Romance Junkies

			“This book embodied raw sexual chemistry and then took it up a few notches. Be careful when handling it, because you might get scorched!”

			—Under the Covers

			“Flat-out spectacular . . . [A] series filled with strong heroes and heroines, sinfully hot love scenes, and adrenaline-filled action.”

			—Wit and Sin

			“Elle Kennedy, please write faster!”

			—The Book Pushers





TITLES BY ELLE KENNEDY


			The Outlaws Series

			Claimed

			Addicted

			Ruled

			The Killer Instincts Series

			Midnight Rescue

			Midnight Alias

			Midnight Games

			Midnight Pursuits

			Midnight Action

			Midnight Captive

			Midnight Revenge

			After Midnight

			(A Penguin Special ebook)





		 			BERKLEY SENSATION

			Published by Berkley

			An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

			375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014



			Copyright © 2016 by Leeanne Kenedy

			Excerpt from Addicted by Elle Ken; nedy copyright © 2016 by Leeanne Kenedy

			Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

			BERKLEY and BERKLEY SENSATION are registered trademarks and the B colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

			Ebook ISBN: 9780698190399

			First Edition: November 2016

			Cover art by Kris Keller

			Cover design by Katie Anderson

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.




Version_1





To J,

for all the love, support, and endless phone calls . . .





Contents


			 				Praise for Elle Kennedy’s Killer Instincts Series

				Titles by Elle Kennedy

				Title Page

				Copyright

				Dedication

				Chapter 1

				Chapter 2

				Chapter 3

				Chapter 4

				Chapter 5

				Chapter 6

				Chapter 7

				Chapter 8

				Chapter 9

				Chapter 10

				Chapter 11

				Chapter 12

				Chapter 13

				Chapter 14

				Chapter 15

				Chapter 16

				Chapter 17

				Chapter 18

				Chapter 19

				Chapter 20

				Chapter 21

				Chapter 22

				Chapter 23

				Chapter 24

				Chapter 25

				Chapter 26

				Chapter 27

				Chapter 28

				Chapter 29

				Epilogue

				Excerpt from Addicted

				About the Author





1


			“Everyone’s in position. Just waiting on your word.”

			At the sound of the deep male voice, Reese shifted her gaze from the high-voltage electric fence in the distance to find her most trusted friend emerge from the shadows. Sloan wore black from head to toe, and he was armed to the teeth. So was she. They all were.

			She bit the inside of her cheek. Just waiting on your word. Because it all came down to her. Her word. Her plan. Her decision to rob this munitions depot.

			The weight of leadership was heavier than normal tonight. The crushing losses she’d suffered, the unceasing guilt she harbored . . . they were light and airy compared to this burden. Before, her raids had involved teams of three at the most, but this one consisted of more than triple that. She was holding too many people’s lives in her hands, and she didn’t fucking like it.

			“You want to abort?” Sloan studied her face, his hazel eyes piercing through the armor that always turned from steely to flimsy when he was around.

			He knew her well. Too well. Four years ago, when this strong, silent man joined up with her small band of outlaws, it had taken mere seconds for Reese to trust him. Something about Sloan had compelled her to confide in him, to lean on him, to seek him out whenever a decision needed to be made.

			It was no surprise that his simple prompting lifted the lid on the self-doubt she’d been trying to contain. “This could backfire on us. People could die.”

			“We all die eventually.” His tone didn’t hold a trace of emotion. “If it happens tonight, at least it’ll be for a good cause.”

			“Will it?” Her teeth dug deeper into her cheek. What cause was she really fighting for? Freedom?

			Or was it vengeance?

			She wanted the Global Council to burn. She wanted to kill every single council member in the Colonies, every single Enforcer who carried out their dirty work. If she succeeded, the citizens living behind the city walls would be free. The outlaws living in secret outside those walls would no longer be hunted. But Reese would be lying if she said her motives were selfless.

			The council had stolen everything from her. Every goddamn thing that she’d ever held dear. She despised them for it, and when that red-hot hatred burned as hot as it did now, it stripped away all notions that she might be doing this for anything other than pure revenge.

			As usual, Sloan read her mind. He chuckled. “Doesn’t matter that the cause—for you, anyway—might be tangled up with a bunch of other shit. It’s still a cause, sweetheart. It’s still something we all want.” He jerked his head toward the small warehouse several hundred yards away. “We want those guns. We want to kill the bastards who are guarding those guns. And we’re going to succeed.”

			A smile ghosted across her face. “We will, huh?”

			“We’ve been planning this for weeks. Those motherfuckers don’t stand a chance against us.”

			The rare flicker of humor in his eyes wore away at her hesitation. If Sloan was confident this could work, then she had to be too. He was right—meticulous planning had gone into it. They knew where every perimeter guard was posted. They knew exactly how many Enforcers were manning the interior. They knew the codes to deactivate the fence. They knew how to disable the cameras and the backup alert that the Enforcers would try to dispatch.

			If they followed the plan to the last letter, they would get out of this alive.

			Probably.

			Maybe.

			Fuck. She was doubting herself again.

			Reese stared at the warehouse and wished there were more places around it to use for cover. The wooded area spanning the rear and east side was advantageous for only half her people; approaching the front of the building would be impossible to do covertly. The warehouse’s location was completely isolated, which made sense because the structure, for all intents and purposes, was a gigantic time bomb. With all the potential ammo, weapons, and explosives inside, one tiny accident could kill everyone in the vicinity. The blast barriers might absorb most of the damage, but either way, an explosion wasn’t the outcome Reese hoped to get out of this.

			She wanted those weapons.

			But she also wanted her people to stay alive.

			“Maybe we should do this alone,” she told Sloan, wincing at the note of panic in her voice. “You and me. Send the others home.”

			His handsome features creased. She couldn’t tell if he was worried or annoyed. Probably the latter. God knew she was pretty fucking annoyed with herself right now. Why was she acting like a scared little girl?

			“They know what they’re doing,” Sloan assured her. “We made sure of it.”

			They had. Reese had assembled her best-trained people for this raid. And Connor Mackenzie, the leader of a small camp not far from hers, had sent three of his best men as well. Rylan, Pike, and Xander were used to these types of dangerous missions. In fact, Xan’s technological prowess was what made the entire plan possible.

			“Give the order, Reese,” Sloan said softly. “We’ve wasted enough time.”

			She swallowed. Then she reached for the radio strapped to her belt. One shaky jab of her finger and she was addressing her soldiers. “Go time,” she murmured. “The front guards will be switching rotation in three minutes. Xan, disable the fence now.”

			“Copy,” came Xander’s faint reply.

			There was no outward sign that the fence would no longer zap anything that came in contact with it, but Reese trusted Xander when he reported a moment later that they were all set. The fence and cameras had been taken care of.

			“Rylan, get ready,” she said into the radio.

			“Born ready,” the bane of her existence drawled back.

			She pictured him lying flat on his belly like a snake, hidden behind the small rise in the landscape that was hardly considered decent cover but was their only option. If the night breeze rustled even one strand of his hair, the Enforcers at the front gates would spot him. Though Rylan probably got off on that. From what Reese had seen, the man was addicted to danger.

			She really wished Connor hadn’t sent Rylan to join the party. The gorgeous blond outlaw got on her nerves, big-time. But he was also one of the most lethal fighters she’d ever met, thanks to the years he’d spent training recruits for the now defunct People’s Army, an outlaw military group that had risen decades ago to fight the GC right after the war.

			She might not like Rylan, but she needed him.

			She glanced at Sloan, who was getting his rifle in position. “Let’s do this shit,” she said with a sigh.

			His mouth quirked up in an almost smile.

			The radio crackled to life again. “Shift change about to happen,” Pike reported.

			Reese took a breath before voicing the command. “Go.”

			There was only a split second of silence between her orders and the gunfire that blasted through the night.

			Reese and Sloan burst out of the tree line, rifles up, fingers on the triggers. All her people had been given the same order: shoot to kill. They weren’t taking prisoners.

			Four Enforcers stood at the back gate, identifiable by their black tactical gear with red stripes down the sides of their pants. Two were behind the fence; two were posted at the gate beyond it. Reese didn’t hesitate as she took aim on her enemies and opened fire.

			Between her and Sloan—and the element of surprise—the guards at the gate dropped like flies, dead before they even hit the pavement.

			The two behind the fence were a different story.

			“Take cover!” Sloan shouted as they charged toward the fence.

			Reese dove for shelter behind a military Jeep parked nearby. Sloan threw himself beside her as bullets whizzed above their heads. The Enforcers were shouting sharp, muffled orders to each other that Reese couldn’t make out over the gunshots. The odor of gunpowder filled the air and she breathed it in as she repositioned her rifle and turned to Sloan.

			“Head for the gate. I’ll cover you.”

			He nodded, waited for her silent count, then flew forward with a surprising amount of grace and dexterity for such a large man. Reese popped up and provided cover fire, crowing in triumph when one of her bullets connected with her target. The assault rifle clattered out of the Enforcer’s hands as a pained shout left his mouth. She’d hit his shooting arm. Good. That meant one less weapon being aimed at Sloan as he stormed the gate.

			Shots continued to explode from all directions, but she refused to think about what was going on outside her assigned quadrant, refused to consider that her people might be caught in the crossfire she was hearing all around her. She focused on backing up Sloan, protecting Sloan.

			“Clear!” he called less than a minute later.

			Adrenaline surged through her blood as she hurried toward him. The cameras affixed to the tops of the fence weren’t blinking green, but she still angled her face away from them, ducking her head as she ran.

			Sloan trained his rifle on the rear doors. Reese did the same. She expected those doors to fly open at any second. The Enforcers guarding the interior would panic once they realized their lockdown procedures had been thwarted, a notion that brought a cruel smile to her lips. This station and its security protocols were wholly dependent on the technology that kept it operational. Thanks to Xander, all systems were down.

			Her smile widened when muffled gunshots sounded from inside the warehouse. “They’re in,” she murmured to Sloan.

			He didn’t look as thrilled by that. “We should be in there too.” But he didn’t make a move toward the doors.

			“We stay in position,” she told him. “Stick to the plan, remember?”

			And the plan required them to secure the rear and take out any Enforcers who tried to flee. Rylan and the others were doing their part inside.

			It felt like an interminably long time before the gunfire died down and her people began reporting in.

			“All clear.” Beckett, who was with Nash on the west side of the warehouse.

			“Clear.” Davis and Cole from the east.

			“All good here.” Xander, who was monitoring the tech from one of their trucks.

			“You guys can head inside now.” The final report came from Rylan, sounding mighty pleased with himself.

			Reese clicked on the radio. “Any casualties?”

			A chorus of nos rang out, though she didn’t miss the note of hesitation in Pike’s voice. Shit. She hoped all her people were in one piece.

			“Let’s go,” she said brusquely.

			Weapons drawn, she and Sloan raced toward the two metal doors that swung open at their approach. A beaming Rylan appeared, his blue eyes dancing with mischief. “Hey, guys. Fancy meeting you here.”

			Sloan rolled his eyes.

			“Is everything a joke to you?” Reese asked irritably.

			“Gorgeous, we just raided a weapons depot and didn’t die. I think I’m allowed to be in a good mood right now.”

			He had a point.

			As they followed Rylan into the fluorescent-lit corridor, the ringing in Reese’s ears eased, replaced by the wild hammering of her pulse. Holy fuck. They’d done it. They’d actually done it.

			“Everyone okay?” she asked Rylan.

			He shrugged. “More or less.”

			“What the hell does that mean?”

			“Your girl Sam took a bullet, but she’ll live.”

			A rush of concern overtook her, spurring her to walk faster. Damn it. She’d been torn about bringing Sam along, but the woman was one of the best sharpshooters in Foxworth, the small town Reese had commandeered years ago.

			“Where is she?” Reese demanded.

			Rylan gestured to the set of doors at the end of the hall. “Pike’s stitching her up. Don’t worry, everything’s fine.”

			Reese only moved faster. She’d be a fool to take Rylan’s word for anything—the man could be bleeding out from his femoral artery and still insist everything was “fine.” She rarely saw him without some injury that was “no big deal, gorgeous”, although he was always quick to ask her to kiss it and make it better.

			She pushed at the doors and found herself in a cavernous room filled with endless rows of shelving soaring almost to the ceiling. The scent of metal, gunpowder, and blood assaulted her nostrils as she stepped through the threshold. She paid no attention to the bodies strewn all over the cement floor. Dead Enforcers meant nothing to her.

			Apparently they meant nothing to Rylan too; he didn’t even glance down as he carelessly stepped over the bloodied body of an Enforcer who’d taken several bullets to the chest.

			“See? She’s fine.” Rylan sounded exasperated as he pointed across the warehouse.

			Reese relaxed when she glimpsed Sam. The slender brunette was sitting on a plastic chair, wearing a stony expression as Pike tied what looked like a piece of his shirt around her upper arm.

			“You okay, Sammy?” Reese called out.

			“Peachy,” the woman called back, then offered a thumbs-up.

			Appeased, Reese walked over to the nearest aisle and poked her head around the corner. Stacks upon stacks of wooden crates met her eyes, and then she spotted Beckett already hard at work, prying a crate open with his crowbar. He grinned when he saw her, then shoved aside a sea of packing peanuts to extract a gleaming assault rifle from the crate.

			“Nice, huh?” he remarked.

			Her heart started pounding again, this time from excitement rather than adrenaline. When she’d been gathering intel about this warehouse, all her sources were unclear about whether it would contain weapons or ammunition. Most depots weren’t equipped to handle both, and it would have been pointless to get their hands on a shit ton of ammo when they had no weapons to use it with.

			But Reese’s gut had told her that West Colony’s council members didn’t have enough manpower to guard multiple munitions warehouses, particularly with the new colony that they were supposedly terraforming along the west coast. She’d banked on the council consolidating both weapons and ammo in one place, and her gamble had paid off.

			These weapons were hers now. The endless boxes of ammunition were hers. It was all hers.

			Her pulse sped up at the thought, but there was no time to bask in her victory. Once the Enforcers they’d killed missed their hourly check-in with headquarters, the city would send backup.

			Reese clapped her hands together, and the sharp sound echoed through the massive space. “Load the trucks,” she ordered. “We have fifteen minutes to take as much as we can. Let’s not waste time, people.”





2


			Maybe he was a sick bastard, but violence got him hard. Really fucking hard. Which made for a very uncomfortable ride home. Rylan shifted restlessly in the passenger’s side of the pickup truck, did some strategic rearranging down below, and hoped that Xander didn’t feel the need to comment on Rylan’s very noticeable hard-on.

			But Xan’s gaze stayed on the dark road beyond the windshield. He’d barely said a word since they’d settled in for the long drive back to Connor’s camp.

			Rylan reached into his pack and pulled out two cigarettes. “You want?” he asked, waving an unlit one in Xander’s direction.

			The quiet man gave a sharp nod.

			Rylan lit the two smokes, took a long drag, and handed one over. Xander puffed his down to a nub before another mile passed. Without being asked, Rylan lit another one. He hoped his friend would pace himself on the second, because he only had one left.

			Fortunately, it looked like Xan planned to make this one last, probably so he’d have an excuse not to talk. He didn’t need one, though. Everyone knew the source of Xander’s silence. It had been two months since the attack on Reese’s town, two months since the death of Xander’s best friend, Kade. In those two months, all of Xander’s spoken words could’ve been written on a napkin. He’d never been one to crack jokes or run around with a big grin on his face, but the man’s expression had two modes now—stoic or pained. He winced every time Kade’s name came up.

			And for all the success they’d experienced tonight, their excursions weren’t picnics. They were battles with live rounds and a shit ton of ammunition. Rylan wasn’t naive enough to think that Kade’s death was the last they’d suffer before the end—if there was going to be an end.

			Reese’s plan to take down the Global Council was dangerous, risky, and only working because the outlaws on her side would rather bet their lives than sit on their asses, hiding from the world. Even Connor, Rylan’s best friend and leader, had been brought around to Reese’s way of thinking.

			Strike first, strike often, and strike hard—that was their new motto, because as evidenced by the recent attack on Foxworth, the Enforcers who carried out the will of the GC wouldn’t allow the outlaws to hide for much longer.

			Rylan rolled his head around his neck, trying to ease some of the tension, but he knew it wasn’t going away with any car-bound workout. There was only one way the granite in his pants would subside—with his hand working his cock while his mind feverishly played images of Reese.

			Though if he were being honest, the solo act wasn’t much fun. He liked active, happy companions. More than one if possible, which was why he’d been a frequent visitor to Connor and Hudson’s bed. There wasn’t anything better in the world than driving a woman crazy in the sack, and he got the most pleasure doing it with another man in the mix. Two men, devoted to one woman’s pleasure, meant everyone had a fan-fucking-tastic time.

			But Reese’s pleasure was off-limits to him, apparently. Seemed like she’d rather sleep with anyone but him. And he was good, damn it. He knew that if he had the opportunity, he could rock that woman’s world. He’d do it by himself or they could have Reese’s brick-faced companion join them. At this point, he didn’t give a shit who was there as long as he finally got his hands on her. But the stubborn woman continued to resist his every attempt, every sugarcoated word. And in the last couple months, Rylan’s desire for everyone else seemed to have tapped out like a dried well. His dick was raw from all the hand work it was getting.

			He stared moodily out the window. It was cold outside, but there wasn’t any snow. Technically it was still winter, but spring-like weather had come too soon, and with it, endless rain. The truck moved slowly in the mud and slush. He hated it.

			After another ten miles of smoke-filled silence, Rylan had had enough. Enough of the shitty weather. Enough of the bleak landscape. Enough of the goddamn quiet. He didn’t want to be in his head thinking about Reese, the weather, or the dire situation that the successful raid would no doubt spark.

			“Nice work with the electronics tonight.”

			Xander grunted.

			Okay, this wasn’t going to work. No way could he survive another two hours next to this sullen soldier, especially when his own thoughts were wandering into melancholy territory. If he stayed in the truck with Xan, the two of them would end up singing dirges and wiping away man tears.

			The rumble of a motorcycle roared next to them. As Rylan looked out the window, he made out long red hair streaming out the bottom of a black wool hat, and leather-clad legs wrapped around a man big enough to be mistaken for a mountain.

			The fit of his pants became impossibly tight as he stared at Reese, the outlaw queen. There wasn’t a man who saw her that didn’t instantly want to fuck her. Or if there was, Rylan hadn’t met him and didn’t want to. He couldn’t stand ridiculous jackasses who were turned off by a woman as strong as steel.

			He wondered if Sloan could feel the heat of Reese’s pussy as she plastered her body against the man’s back. Now that was where Rylan wanted to be. Not cooped up with Mr. Sourface, but out on the open road with Reese wrapped around him. One of her hands would be attached to his dick, which meant they’d have to stop at some point so he could bend her over the side of the bike and fuck her until she was too weak to walk. Then, when they got to Foxworth, they’d shower, fuck again, get into bed, and fuck some more.

			His cock couldn’t get stiffer.

			“You’re gonna permanently damage something downstairs if you don’t get yourself under control,” Xander remarked.

			“Shit, man, the condition of my hard-on is what gets you to talk? Why don’t you reach over and do something about it?” Rylan waved a hand toward his lap. Anything but his own touch would be a welcome relief these days.

			“Pass.”

			Beside the truck, Sloan gunned the motorcycle’s engine and the vehicle jumped past them, heading for Foxworth. Reese didn’t even look Rylan’s way.

			There was a name for men who constantly chased after what they couldn’t have. Scratch that. Several names: Idiot. Fool. Ass.

			But Rylan couldn’t turn off his desire, even if he wanted to.

			He had options, of course. Jamie might be off the table because she’d finally hooked Lennox—or rather, Lennox had woken the fuck up and realized if he didn’t make his claim, he was going to lose Jamie. But even without Jamie, there were other options at Connor’s camp. Layla. Piper. And Connor and Hudson would definitely invite him to join them. They both enjoyed his company—Connor, because he loved making Hudson happy, and Hudson, because, well, Rylan was shit hot in bed. But afterward, he’d still have to go back to sleep in his cabin and think about the fact that they were starting a war.

			Or . . . he could throw himself at the tigress. Who cared if he got scratched up a little? Better than being dead. Besides, Xan was right. If he didn’t do something about the spike in his pants, there was going to be damage. If not to his head, then to his body.

			He rolled down the window and looked behind him. Ten lengths back was Beckett’s vehicle. Beck was the mechanic at Foxworth. “Pull over and drop me off,” Rylan told Xander.

			The other man tilted his head. “You think she’s gonna say yes this time after months of saying no?”

			“You only lose the fights you never enter,” Rylan quipped.

			Maybe if he was lucky, Reese would finally throw him a bone.


* * *

			Sloan didn’t knock as he entered Reese’s room. She would’ve laughed if he had, telling him he had as much right to the space as she did. But the space he wanted most was in her bed—the one she was sitting on as he closed the door behind him.

			Her tanned, toned, bare legs stretched out in front of her as she toweled her hair dry. A faded blue T-shirt clung to her ripe tits. The skin at her throat, around her cheeks, on the tops of her silky thighs, was flushed from the heat of her recent shower. Her body was an unintentional invitation to feast.

			He wanted to run his fingers over her legs. No, his tongue. He’d lick his way up, part her thighs, and . . .

			Fuck. He shut down those fantasies quick before his wood became too awkward to hide. Then he strode angrily to the far wall and stared out the window—seeing nothing but golden skin, wet strands of red hair, swaying breasts, and whisper-thin cotton that teased rather than disguised.

			“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is it the raid? It was almost too easy, wasn’t it?”

			Her uncertainty shamed him. She was shouldering a huge load, and here he was, feeling sorry for himself like a baby bitch. Swallowing his inappropriate desire, Sloan turned to face her. “No. It seemed easy because you planned it flawlessly.”

			She didn’t respond, but he could tell by the look on her face exactly what was going on. She was tunneling deep into her own head, second-guessing herself.

			He cursed inwardly, but gentled his voice. “Reese.”

			She pressed her lips together for a moment, and then the shield dropped. “I’m scared.”

			Sloan’s heart turned over. He was the only one who got to see her like this, the only one she trusted enough to see her uncertain and frightened. Outside this room, she cloaked herself in impenetrable armor. She fought and fucked with verve. There wasn’t a person better suited to lead this rebellion than Reese.

			But inside, she quaked at the responsibility. She wanted to save everyone, mourned every loss. Even the ones she made with her own hands.

			Her trust made him both the luckiest man alive and the most cursed. Reese would show him her vulnerability, but she wouldn’t allow him to comfort her. And he never put her in the position of having to turn him down. That was one burden Sloan wouldn’t place on her shoulders—the knowledge that he ached for her and her alone.

			He knew how she felt about love. How she shied away from commitment and those tender emotions that glowed around couples like Lennox and Jamie or Connor Mackenzie and his woman. Reese would never say it to their faces, but she believed that kind of love didn’t have a place in this world.

			She was doing everything in her power to change that. To make it so the young girls and boys in her care would grow up without the need to foster their fierce, angry, wild sides in order to survive.

			Still, all that change came at a cost. It meant putting her people in danger. Their lives were in her hands and every mission she laid out had very real consequences.

			“They trust me.”

			Even though her eyes weren’t red, Sloan suspected some of the water in that shower hadn’t come from the reservoir tanks. “They should.”

			“Should they? Should they really? Am I even doing this for the right reasons? We both know I want to bring down the council for my own personal pleasure. It has nothing to do with that pretty ideal of freedom.” Reese’s fingers clenched into a ball.

			Sloan crossed the room and sat beside her. She leaned into him immediately, and the need in his blood spiked hard. With ruthless self-control, he tamped it down. Picking up her hand, he pulled her fingers apart, wincing at the sight of the bloody crescents in her palms. Yeah, there’d been plenty of tears shed in that shower, all right.

			He allowed himself this touch, just as he allowed himself a million other small tortures. Because these small things were worth all the pain of not having her.

			“You can want both—revenge and freedom—and still be on the side of good.” He rubbed her fingers. Hard calluses met hard calluses. Reese was a warrior, not a soft-palmed woman of the Colonies. And the thickened skin at the base of her fingers, the weathered pads of her fingertips, the wind-burned cheeks . . . it all made her sexier than any woman had the right to be.

			“I . . . worry that I’m not making the right decisions.”

			What she really meant was that she worried that the number of lost lives would be higher than she would be able to live with in the end.

			“You’re overthinking this. Listen.” He tipped his head toward the open window. Outside the building, people were starting to gather at the rec hall. Music had been turned on and the sound of laughter and singing and merriment mixed together. All of it existed because Reese was willing to put her neck, heart, and soul on the line.

			Yes, there were going to be losses, but it wasn’t healthy for her to sit up in her room and count them when she could be out there with the people she had saved.

			“That’s the sound of celebration. We need to have these moments too. All of us.” Sloan pushed to his feet without letting go of her hand. “So get dressed, find a man tonight, and ride his dick until you’re limp.”





3


			Sloan was right. She needed to be around people. Needed to let the voices and laughter and music drown out the doubts that were pounding through her brain.

			And he was right about the other thing—she needed sex. A hard cock slamming into her until she was mindless would be the perfect antidote to her melancholy.

			Any man in this room could help her out with that. It was just a matter of deciding which one to pick.

			Her gaze swept over the small crowd as she moved deeper into the rec hall. The old building had once been a place where the long-since-dead residents of Foxworth had come to amuse themselves. Kids would pop in after school to play Ping-Pong and do arts and crafts. There’d been knitting classes and book club meetings, according to the faded flyers on the bulletin board near the door, and aerobics classes in the gym upstairs, though all the equipment was now covered in rust and essentially unusable.

			Since nobody had felt like lugging broken treadmills and exercise bikes down two flights of stairs, they’d decided to pretend a second floor didn’t exist. On the main floor, they’d brought in furniture—couches, chairs, a pool table Jake had found in one of the wealthier homes in town.

			The thought of Jake made her stomach roil. It was hard to look at anything in Foxworth without thinking of him. He was ingrained in every inch of this town. She was the one who’d found Foxworth and decided to make it a permanent base, but Jake had turned it into something better, something she’d never even dreamed of. It was his idea to raid the nearby factories for sheet metal, his idea to erect the gates around the main stretch of town. His idea to form alliances with the shadier Enforcers, offering them sex and booze in exchange for protection and invisibility.

			Foxworth was their creation. He’d been its king, and she his queen. A queen who’d murdered him for the crown.

			No, not for the crown. For them—Reese looked around at the thirty or so people filling the room.

			A little more than eighty people resided in Foxworth, but not all of them were original members of the group. Some were nomads who’d wandered up to the gates long after Jake’s death. Others were old acquaintances who’d found their way back to the area. But the ones who’d known Jake . . . the ones who’d suffered at his hands . . . they were the ones she’d saved from the man she’d loved.

			Jake had needed to be stopped.

			She’d stopped him.

			“So who’s it going to be?”

			Reese tensed as Rylan came up beside her. He held a tumbler of amber liquid in one big hand, tapping his thumb against the glass.

			“Who’s going to be what?” she muttered. As always, his presence threw her guard up a hundred feet.

			“The man who’ll be getting the gift of your pussy tonight.” His blue eyes flickered with irritation. “I’d be happy if you chose me, but that’s probably hoping for too much, huh?”

			“You’re right about that.”

			Rylan chuckled and handed her his glass. “Drink?”

			“You trying to liquor me up, honey?”

			He blinked innocently. “Nah, you looked thirsty.”

			A laugh slipped out, but she still accepted the glass and took a long swig. Bourbon, she noted as the alcohol slid down her throat. She wondered if Rylan had picked it because he knew she had a hard-on for bourbon, or if it was a coincidence.

			After another sip, she handed the glass back. “Getting me drunk won’t impair my judgment, you know. I’m even more stubborn when I’m wasted.”

			He laughed too, and the deep, husky sound tickled a place she didn’t want associated with this man. She fought a smile, but it broke free when she noticed the very obvious bulge in his pants. Rylan seemed to sport a permanent erection, as if he expected he might have to whip out his dick at a moment’s notice and always wanted to be prepared.

			“Seriously, gorgeous, would it kill you to say yes?” Rylan leaned in so close that his lips brushed her ear. “You know I’d make it good for you.”

			She had no doubt. But Rylan was too damn dangerous to spread her legs for. Forget the fact that he physically resembled her ex-lover, with his golden hair and vivid blue eyes. That was an issue, sure, but not an insurmountable one. He and Jake might look vaguely the same, but Reese knew from experience that no man fucked the same.

			No, it was the other resemblance between Rylan and Jake that scared her—the reckless streak. Rylan didn’t seem to give a shit whether he lived or died. He breezed through life as if it were a game. One he evidently didn’t care about winning, otherwise he wouldn’t throw himself headfirst into dangerous situations without a single care for his well-being. And although he took orders from Connor Mackenzie, Reese knew he’d disobey his leader in a heartbeat if it struck his fancy.

			Granted, he didn’t seem to crave power the way Jake had, but the motives behind Rylan’s actions didn’t matter. Like Jake, he was too impulsive. Dangerously so.

			A man who didn’t think before he acted was a man who couldn’t be controlled.

			And for a woman who carefully planned every move she made, that was the issue. She refused to let another loose cannon into her bed, especially when she was well aware that men like Jake and Rylan were her weakness.

			“You know who else would make it good for me?” she said sweetly. “Beckett.”

			Rylan followed her gaze to the tattooed man across the room. Beckett was laughing at something his friend Travis had said. “Beck’s a decent lay,” Rylan agreed. “But he’s not what you need tonight. Too playful.”

			She raised an eyebrow. “And what do I need tonight?”

			“With all the adrenaline from the raid still burning in your blood? You need a good, hard dicking, gorgeous.” He nodded to their left. “Nash could probably give it to you.”

			Reese glanced at the man in question. Nash’s rugged features and lean frame were definitely appealing, but she wasn’t really feeling him tonight.

			“It’s too bad Lennox isn’t here. He’d give it to you as hard as you wanted.” Rylan grinned. “But he’s a one-woman man these days, so maybe it’s a good thing he’s at Con’s camp. This way your poor ego doesn’t have to take a hit every time he rejects you.”

			She narrowed her eyes. But she couldn’t argue with that. Lennox had made it clear that he was with Jamie now and not interested in screwing anyone else. And Jamie had made it clear what would happen if Reese made a play for Lennox’s bed ever again—that little bitch had beaten the shit out of Reese the last time they’d crossed paths.

			Not that Reese held a grudge. She’d be possessive of Lennox too, if he was her man.

			“I don’t mind rejection,” she answered. “It’s character building.”

			“Too much of it can crush a man’s ego, though.”

			Reese ran her gaze over Rylan’s confident frame. “Hasn’t worked so far.”

			“Inside, I’m hurt,” he said playfully. “I’m probably going to need someone to check me out later. Maybe if we danced, it’d soothe some of the sting.”

			Reese turned away from Rylan’s twinkling blue eyes and searched the room for Sloan, who was never far from her side. Usually lurking in the shadows somewhere, his watchful gaze fixed on her.

			When she couldn’t see him anywhere, a pang of unease tugged at her insides. He must have ducked out right after he’d walked her over to the rec hall, which was odd, because Sloan rarely left her alone. Then again, it was late. He’d probably gone to bed.

			The room felt unbalanced somehow without Sloan.

			“Too stubborn to take a turn with me?” Rylan countered, drawing her from her thoughts.

			Rather than give her the chance to reply, he took her hand and yanked her against him. Reese grabbed onto his broad shoulders by instinct, barely righting herself before he shoved one thigh between her legs and plastered their bodies together.

			Her traitorous hormones instantly kicked in. The last time she and Rylan were in this position, she’d been seconds away from taking him to bed, a foolish decision that had been interrupted by the arrival of the Enforcers. The events that followed had been a total shit storm. People had died. Good people, like Arch, whose death had left his pregnant woman all alone in this world. And Kade, whose death had been the push Connor needed to join Reese’s cause.

			“Get out of your head,” Rylan murmured against her cheek.

			Damn. Was he reading her like Sloan did? She clenched her fingers over his shoulders, but, for some stupid reason, didn’t shove him away. “I’m not . . .” She trailed off.

			“Not thinking about your next move?” he mocked. “Planning the next attack? Mentally counting all the bodies you might leave in your wake?”

			His faint laughter grated. And damn him for knowing what was eating at her. Before his extended stay at Foxworth two months ago to train her people in the art of guns and combat, she never would’ve used the word perceptive to describe this man. But he’d proven her wrong during that visit. Rylan was far more observant than she’d ever given him credit for.

			His rough thumb traced a path up her neck to her mouth. He rubbed her lower lip, slowly, seductively. “You need to fuck,” he whispered.

			Tension gathered inside her, tightening her muscles, pulsing in her core. He was absolutely right. Sex was a surefire way to release all the volatile energy surging through her veins.

			“Use me tonight, Reese.” He buried his face in her neck as he continued to rub up against her. He wasn’t moving in time to the fast-paced beat pulsing out of the rec hall speakers, but to his own slow, sensual rhythm. Each grind of his hips weakened her resolve. “Use me however you want. Fuck me however you want. Just . . . say . . . yes.”

			A shiver racked her body as his warm mouth latched onto the side of her throat. He kissed her hot flesh, then sucked hard enough to make her moan.

			That got her a low chuckle. “You know you want to.” He licked a path along her jaw and upward, until their lips were a mere inch apart. “We’ll burn so hot together, baby.”

			She didn’t answer. She couldn’t, because her throat was clamped shut. God, of course they’d be hot together. Her entire body was close to going up in flames. The feel of his erection against her thigh made her weak-kneed and achy.

			But . . . she didn’t trust herself when she was around him.

			The truth was, there was a reason she was drawn to loose cannons.

			Because she was one.

			She was only careful because she forced herself to be, but those wild tendencies that had gravitated toward Jake lived inside her too. She was driven by base urges just like Jake had been, and she struggled every second of every day to hold on to restraint and be the kind of leader her people deserved. The kind of leader Jake had failed to be.

			Rylan tested that restraint, and she didn’t like it.

			Where was Sloan, damn it? Panic rolled through her as she peered past Rylan and once again searched the room. Sloan grounded her. He was the only one who—her panic faded when she spotted him near the door. A breath of relief slid past her lips.

			“I’m down with Sloan joining us. The more, the merrier,” Rylan said after he’d twisted his head to track her gaze.

			Sloan stared back at them, steady and reassuring. I’m here, his eyes telegraphed from across the room. Reese watched as he settled his broad shoulders against the wall, crossing his arms and resting one ankle over the other.

			She turned to Rylan, who took her renewed attention as an invitation. He shifted her around so she couldn’t see Sloan anymore and nuzzled her neck again, whispering, “What’s it going to be, gorgeous?”

			No.

			Yes.

			Her body was a fuse waiting for a spark. Primed for sex. Aching for it.

			She felt the unshakable gaze of Sloan at her back. Yeah, if she didn’t pull out of this maelstrom of guilt and worry, she wasn’t going to be good for anything.

			Now, more than ever, she needed to be sharp and ready. She looked up into Rylan’s heated gaze. He never took anything too seriously, was rumored to be one of the best fucks in West Colony. Sex with him would be the greatest distraction she could ask for.

			Except . . . she still didn’t trust herself. She didn’t trust that she could give in to Rylan and come out of it unscathed.

			But she did trust someone else.

			Abruptly, she pulled out of his arms. “Follow me.”

			She turned on her heel, not waiting to see if he followed. The hard boots hitting the floor answered for him. Sloan straightened as she arrowed in his direction, and by the time she came to a stop in front of him, he’d reached his full, towering height.

			“You said I needed a man tonight,” Reese muttered. “Is he the one?”

			Sloan’s hazel eyes locked with hers. “I can’t think of a better person in this room to pull you out of your head.”

			Rylan’s breath was hot on her neck, and Reese had to fight to keep from shivering in sexual delight. She shook her head instead. “He’s reckless.”

			Sloan nodded.

			“It’s not wise.”

			Sloan nodded again. “If we did everything that was wise, we would’ve been dead a long time ago.” He lifted his hand as if to cup her cheek, but the touch didn’t land. It never did. He always held himself back.

			She knew, because she wasn’t dumb or blind, that he lusted after her. He’d never made a move to scratch that itch, but it was always there between them, like the caress that never happened. Reese had become accustomed to it, as much as she expected the sun to rise and the rain to fall. Sloan was the one constant in her life.

			Rylan coughed. “I’m right here, you know.”

			They both ignored him. Reese kept her eyes on Sloan. If he was with her . . . then maybe she could hold on to some shred of control. Maybe the fiery lust, the recklessness Rylan stirred in her, wouldn’t spill over into other more vulnerable areas.

			“Only if you’re there,” she whispered to Sloan. “I don’t trust myself.” In other words, she needed him to be the lifeline he’d always been and pull her out of the quicksand when it threatened to swallow her.

			Sloan searched her face, but she wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He went quiet, as if he was turning the proposition over in his head a few dozen times, until finally he nodded again. “If that’s what it takes to ease your mind, then I’m there. Nothing will happen that you don’t need.”

			“Interesting choice of words there, brother,” Rylan noted. “What about giving Reese what she wants?”

			Sloan’s gaze hardened when it shifted from her to Rylan. “She gets it all.”





4


			Rylan had slept with a lot of women over the years. A helluva lot. But he could honestly say this was the first time a woman had consulted her . . . her what? Lover? Lieutenant? Whatever Sloan was to Reese, he was clearly important enough that she needed to ask him before making decisions about her pussy.

			Which was all sorts of fucked up.

			Other men might’ve walked away after that bizarre exchange in the rec hall, but Rylan wasn’t other men. He was the man who’d wanted Reese from the moment he’d met her. The man who was finally going to feel her naked curves pressed up against him as she rode the cock that was downright aching for her.

			If she wanted an audience, fine. He didn’t have a problem with Sloan taking a front-row seat to what was bound to be some pretty spectacular sex. Hell, he’d be cool with Sloan joining in, if that was what got Reese off.

			But the perpetually somber man gave no indication that he was interested in getting his rocks off. When the three of them entered Reese’s bedroom, Sloan flicked on the light, marched to the lone armchair near the bed, and lowered his muscular frame onto it. Then he crossed his arms and said nothing.

			Rylan looked around the room. The bed and chair were the only pieces of furniture. And unlike in his cabin back at Connor’s wilderness camp, there were no items of clothing littering the floor, no clutter, no guns and holsters and ammo strewn about. Everything was neat and orderly.

			“Take your clothes off.”

			Reese’s throaty command drew his gaze back to her. Her brown eyes were bright, glittering with lust. He didn’t know if she was still riding the high of the raid or drunk off the bourbon, but he’d never seen a sexier sight. He could feel the sexual energy radiating from her body, the heat of it going right to his balls.

			“Do it for me,” he drawled.

			She smirked. “You don’t get to give me orders tonight, honey.”

			He smirked back. “Then you don’t get me naked.”

			A smile played on her lush lips. She tilted her head and said, “Sloan.”

			The big man rubbed a hand over his dark, neatly trimmed beard. “Rylan,” he said brusquely. “Take off your clothes.”

			Rylan’s hand slid down to his zipper as if it had a mind of its own.

			Fuck. What the hell was he doing, taking orders from this asshole? Yet he couldn’t stop himself. Something about Sloan’s low, steady voice was damn near hypnotic.

			Reese’s smile widened as Rylan unzipped his jeans. He kicked off his boots, shoved the denim down his legs, and then drew his shirt up and over his head.

			“Socks,” came Sloan’s restrained command.

			Rolling his eyes, Rylan peeled off the thick wool socks and flicked them onto the hardwood floor. He was fully naked now, and he grinned when Reese’s gaze fixed on his very prominent erection. He could see her studying the barbell piercing on his cockhead, as if trying to decide whether or not she was going to enjoy it.

			He fisted his cock and gave it a slow stroke, thumbing the piercing with deliberate showiness. “What now, gorgeous? I’m naked and hard and it’s all for you.”

			She didn’t answer. And she remained fully dressed in skintight jeans plastered to her long legs and a tight sweater clinging to her tits. Those big brown eyes continued to gleam, darkening with pleasure as he gave his dick another pump.

			The longer she stared, the closer he got to the brink. “I need to come before I fuck you,” he muttered.

			That finally got him a response. “Any reason you can’t come while you’re fucking me?” She toyed with the hem of her sweater, absently sliding the fabric up an inch.

			His gaze tracked the motion of her hand, focusing on the narrow strip of flesh that had just been revealed. He swallowed a groan, resisting the urge to rip that goddamn sweater to shreds. He wanted her naked, but he was afraid that if he barked out another order, she’d kick him out on his ass.

			“I’ll last longer if you suck me off first.” He shuddered out a breath. The thought of those pouty red lips around his dick almost caused him to shoot in his hand. He glanced at Sloan, whose faint smile told Rylan that the man knew exactly how close he was to losing it.

			Rylan held Sloan’s gaze and forced out a mocking laugh. “Seriously not interested in joining the party? You’re just gonna sit there and watch?”

			Sloan arched a brow. “Not if all you’re gonna do is talk. Because if that’s all you have to offer her, then she was right to turn you away before.”

			Rylan’s nostrils flared. “Fuck you.”

			The man chuckled. “I already turned you down.”

			“Sloan,” Reese chided without turning around, “be nice.”

			“Only if you’re extra rough with him. He’s annoying me.”

			She threw her head back and laughed, and the sight of her exposed throat summoned a growl from Rylan’s mouth. He snapped his arm out, bunching his fingers in the soft fabric of her sweater to wrench her toward him.

			“You wanna know what I have to offer?” he bit out. “I’ll fucking show you.” Then he crashed his mouth over hers before she or her guard dog could say another goddamn word.

			Reese gasped, startled. The moment her lips parted, his tongue slipped past them, thrusting deep. She tasted like hot sin, fierce and wild, and the blood in his body pounded harder with a driving need to claim her as his own. He laughed internally at the utterly nonsensical thought. Tethering her would be like tethering the tide. Impossible. The minute you had her, she’d slide from your grasp, teasing you to come after her and try again.

			But for now, he had her. He had her fevered lips clinging to his. Her tongue licking a fiery path inside his mouth. Her delectable body sliding against his.

			He’d take it. He was a simple man. He liked to fight and to fuck and he’d wanted Reese for far too long to put conditions on this encounter.

			They devoured each other with their mouths. He tunneled his fingers into her hair and pulled her head back with a sharp tug to get her mouth in a better position for his invasion. Her fingernails dug into his biceps and he shuddered at the thought of those marks on his shoulders, down his back, on his ass cheeks.

			Reese kissed like she did everything else—with every ounce of energy and life she had in her. This was what outlaw meant. Living one’s life to the very edge. If Rylan wanted a sedate, tame existence, he’d live behind the gates of West City and slowly kill himself with normalcy.

			Nope. This passion—this life—was what he craved. And there wasn’t more of it in all of the land than in this one woman.

			The need for release throbbed in his cock. He tore his mouth away and shot a fierce look toward Sloan.

			“No more waiting,” he growled. The two of them were turning him into a reckless animal—Reese with her scorching body rubbing all over his bared aroused one, and Sloan with his impenetrable gaze and commanding nature.

			The other man’s eyes dropped to Rylan’s cock and . . . lingered? Rylan felt himself swell even thicker, which wasn’t that much of a surprise. He’d shared plenty of women and wasn’t at all shy about showing his dick to anyone who was interested in looking.

			But there was something electric in Sloan’s gaze, something that spoke to Rylan directly.

			Sloan’s inspection moved from Rylan’s body to Reese’s. She stood flushed, panting, and ready. A lioness ready to pounce. But neither of them moved. It was as if they couldn’t, not without Sloan’s approval.

			And Sloan withheld that blessing for long, silent moments while the air grew thin, Rylan’s blood thickened, and his pounding heartbeat grew so loud it was all he could hear.

			He was choking on his lust, goddamn it. Close to coming from Reese’s mere proximity and the intensity of Sloan’s stare.

			Had he ever been this turned on before?

			No. Not ever.

			Not with all the partners he’d had before. Not with Connor and Hudson. Not with Jamie. Not with anyone.

			If he didn’t get his dick into something, he was going to shoot all over the floor. His hand drifted down to his shaft, a movement that neither Sloan nor Reese missed. Reese let out a whimper of need, which snapped Sloan to action.

			“On your knees, Reese,” the big man ordered. “I want to see his cock in your throat.”

			Holy shit. Rylan moved his hand to his balls and squeezed, hoping the sharp pain would drive away the urge to come.

			His agony drew a rough laugh from Reese, who was lowering herself to the wooden floorboards. Before her knees hit the ground, Sloan called a halt. “Wait.”

			“Goddammit,” Rylan cursed, because Reese’s mouth was inches from his pained shaft.

			“What’s wrong?” She looked at Sloan with concern.

			He directed his answer to Rylan. “Put your pants on the floor. Her knees don’t need to be torn up.” Taking care of Reese was clearly Sloan’s number one concern, and he showed it all of the time.

			“She’s not going to be on her knees that long,” Rylan grunted, but he still reached for the pants he’d discarded and did as Sloan ordered, because he didn’t want to mar any of that precious skin either.

			Once the pants were in place, Reese knelt down and finally, finally put her capable hands around him.

			Rylan closed his eyes and summoned up the last threads of his self-control. He didn’t know how he did it. He truly didn’t. When her hot, wet mouth closed around his tip, it was a miracle that he didn’t shoot his wad immediately. But he wanted to feel exactly what Sloan had ordered Reese to do—her swallowing him whole.

			Reese didn’t spend a lot of time prolonging the torture. She obviously knew how close to the edge he already was, because she opened her mouth, made a bed of her tongue, and took him in. She paused, just for a second, when the pierced head hit the back of her throat. Long enough for Sloan to interject another command.

			“Open your throat, sweetheart. Man wants to fuck your face. Let’s see what he’s got.”

			She laughed again, and this time Rylan felt the sound reverberate around his cock. Jesus, he was going to embarrass himself.

			“Rylan, eyes on me.”

			His eyes flicked open at Sloan’s command, and Reese retreated.

			“What?” He growled with impatience. His barely wet dick was twitching with need.

			“You do not come until I tell you to. Reese has wanted this for a long time. You gonna ruin that for her by coming too soon?”

			They stared at each other until Rylan found his head and his footing. He widened his stance, took a deep breath, and said, “No. I have a little self-control.” He gave them both a rueful smile. “Not much, but enough to give you what you want.”

			He wasn’t sure who he was talking to anymore. The two of them were more of a unit than he’d realized. No matter who Reese ended up with—if she ended up with anyone—Sloan would always be there. And Rylan found he didn’t care much. Sloan was a good man. He’d pick that steady hand to be at his back any day of the week.

			“Are you two done sorting out the rules?” Reese mocked. “If I knew this was going to be a production, I would’ve picked Beckett.”

			That got Rylan’s attention. He’d waited too long to lose out now. He cupped the back of her head and threaded his fingers through her hair. “Suck,” he said.

			She sucked. Hard. The hot suction made his eyes roll to the back of his head. Her tongue flicked over his piercing and then her teeth captured it, lightly tugging at the silver barbell and summoning a desperate sound from him. Oh shit. He wasn’t sure he’d survive this.

			His eyes stayed open as he watched her play with him. Then those gorgeous lips wrapped tight around him and she swallowed him down again. The noises she was making were unbelievable. Delicate whimpers and breathy moans, as she took him deep in long, lazy pulls.

			Rylan registered the sound of Sloan’s laughter. He looked at the other man with damn near helplessness, wanting to warn him how close he was, to beg him for permission to let go.

			Permission. Since when did he ask for permission for anything, from anyone? He would’ve been angry about it if his dick wasn’t in heaven right now, wet and worshipped by Reese’s eager mouth.

			She swatted at the hand he was using to cup his balls and took its place, squeezing his sac, kneading and toying and tormenting while her mouth tested every shred of his patience. When she released him abruptly, he almost wept.

			“I want you to fuck my mouth,” she said. “Don’t stop until you come.”

			He stupidly looked to Sloan again. Asking for permission again. Goddamn it. When Sloan’s head dipped in a nod, Rylan groaned and shoved his entire length inside Reese’s waiting mouth.

			His hips snapped in a ferocious tempo, both hands clamped on Reese’s head as she deep-throated him hard and fast enough to bring stars to his eyes. He didn’t last long. Five strokes. Maybe ten, before his orgasm stormed through his body and spilled into her mouth.

			She swallowed it all. Every single drop. The convulsions in her throat as she drank him down sent a shuddering thrill through his body.

			“Damn.” Rylan licked his dry lips. All of the fluids had just been sucked out of his body. “Damn.”

			“You okay, honey?” Reese asked with a cocky smile. Her lips were bruised and her voice raspy, and damn if he didn’t feel stirrings in his dick again.

			His gaze slid toward the silent man in the corner, waiting for Sloan’s next command. Reese on the battlefield drove him crazy, but Reese in the bedroom was completely and utterly irresistible.

			If he didn’t get a taste of her in the next five seconds, blood was going to be spilled.





5


			Rylan looked way too tense for a man who’d just shot a gallon of come down a beautiful woman’s throat. But Sloan knew exactly what would satisfy Rylan. It was the same thing Sloan wanted. The same thing Sloan fantasized about every spare minute of every day. He wanted to flip Reese onto the mattress, rip down her jeans, and lay his mouth on her until she was crying for him to fuck her hard and nasty.

			And that was the one thing that Sloan couldn’t ever have.

			But this? He could have this. He could watch the woman he’d always loved find pleasure and release. The fact that Reese wanted him here, wanted him near her at all times, even in the most intimate of moments, made all his torture worthwhile.

			Sloan turned his attention to the most important person in the room. “That feel good, Reese?”

			“So good.”

			Her smile told him it had been exceptional. She’d always liked giving blow jobs. There was real power in it even though the woman was on her knees. The man was at her mercy. If she’d stopped in the middle of Rylan’s face-fucking and asked him to go and kill Connor Mackenzie for her, he’d have found the nearest gun and calmly shot his friend and leader.

			“Want more, don’t you?”

			“Always.” A dark look passed over her eyes.

			The need in Reese had always run deep. Sloan knew that Jake’s ability to let his emotions fly out in the open was the trait that drew Reese the most. It was what she responded to in Rylan, and it was what she feared deeply. That her desire for more—more freedom, more pleasure, more joy—would endanger everyone around her.

			It frustrated Sloan that Reese didn’t recognize this as her greatest strength. Without her vision, her passion and drive, this haven in the middle of outlaw country wouldn’t exist. Half the people inside the walls of Foxworth would have died at the hands of the Enforcers. Well, if starvation and lack of shelter hadn’t done them in before that.

			“Nothing wrong with wanting more, is there, Rylan?” Sloan prompted.

			The other man cast an unreadable look at Sloan, then at Reese. Rylan could clearly sense that the conversation had changed from sex to something else, but also understood that asking questions was a surefire way to put an end to the evening’s activities. By the way his recently sucked cock was making a miraculous revival, it was obvious that Rylan would rather have the building burn down than stop now.

			“Gorgeous, there isn’t anything more right in this world than you getting more.” He reached out to cup her cheek, running a finger over her swollen lips. “There isn’t anything more right than me putting my face between your legs and making you see heaven.”

			“Take off her sweater,” Sloan ordered.

			Rylan’s features grew heavy with lust as he worked the sweater over her head and got his first up close look at her breasts. Sloan’s breath hitched too, because, hell, Reese had spectacular tits. Round and bouncy, with bite-size nipples. They were the perfect fit for a man’s palm.

			“On the bed, Reese,” Sloan rasped. “Cup your tits and hold them out for Rylan. Show him how you like to be touched. How rough you want it.”

			She obeyed immediately, scrambling back onto the mattress and positioning herself so she was facing Sloan. Rylan moved to stand at the edge of the futon but without obscuring Sloan’s view one inch. He appreciated that, more than either of them knew.

			“Like this?” she asked. Her hands came up and curved around her flesh. She tugged and pinched her nipples until they were taut and erect, ready to be licked, nipped, and sucked.

			Sloan’s mouth watered. Exactly like that. He wanted. Oh fuck, he wanted. But he was going to have to make do with his proxy. “Now her jeans.”

			Rylan didn’t hesitate. He dropped to his knees, roughly pulled Reese to the edge of the bed, and tore off the jeans, leaving her clad in a tiny scrap of panties.

			“How wet is she, Rylan?” The words scraped along his throat.

			Rylan ran his hands up Reese’s strong, athletic legs. As his thumbs traced a path from inner ankle to inner thigh, Reese’s eyes grew slumberous. Her face sharpened with desire as she watched Rylan’s fingers slide closer to her center.

			“Soaked,” Rylan announced when he reached her panty-covered sex. “Soaked through. I’m dying to get my mouth on you, baby.”

			She tangled her fingers through his hair, tugging his mouth close to her pussy. “I’m dying to have it there.”

			Rylan reached on either side of her hips and tore the underwear in two with a jerk of his wrists. Sloan was surprised when Rylan didn’t dive right in. Instead, he watched as the other man pushed Reese’s thighs wide, opening her so Sloan could see every aroused inch of her gorgeous body—the narrow strip of reddish curls on her mound, the jut of her tiny clit, her swollen lips glistening with need.

			“I could come just looking at you. You have the prettiest pussy I’ve ever seen.” Rylan voiced Sloan’s thoughts, then slid two fingers down either side of Reese’s slit. He tilted his head to the side, glancing at Sloan. “You’ve never touched this particular patch of paradise? Because I gotta tell you, I don’t know how you can sit over there watching when you could be over here feasting.”

			Yeah, it was torture, all right.

			Rylan turned back to Reese. “I don’t want to eat anything else but your pussy for the rest of my life. Morning, noon, and night. It’s all the sustenance I need.”

			Reese laughed hoarsely. “You’d waste away then.”

			“I’d die a happy man.” Then he laid his mouth against her.

			Sloan couldn’t see it. Rylan’s blond head was in the way, but he could hear the slick sounds of long fingers pumping in and out of her. Reese’s fevered moans told him that Rylan was touching her in all the right places with all the right amount of force.

			Sloan knew she was teetering on the edge of oblivion. Her head thrashed against the mattress and her toes curled as she dug her heels into Rylan’s back. He’d seen her with other men before, but she was different with Rylan. Wilder, more out of control. Her nails gouged the man’s shoulders, and her back arched off the bed as she strained to get closer.

			Fuck. He was so damned tempted to join them. He could slide in behind Reese and rub his erection in the valley of her ass cheeks. Hell, he could lube up and fuck her ass while Rylan went down on her. And all the while, he’d be holding her against him, his arm banded around her waist, her neck turned so that he could ravage her mouth while she rode his cock and Rylan’s tongue.

			Sloan drew a shaky hand over his mouth and fought for control. He valued Reese’s friendship, and because their past didn’t allow anything more, he ruthlessly stamped out his base desires. Taking Rylan up on the invitation to join them would open a door that would only lead to heartache.

			This would be enough for him.

			And as Rylan took her over the edge with his fingers and mouth, Sloan convinced himself that Reese’s pleasure would always be enough for him.

			It had to be.

			After her moans died down, Rylan lifted his head and kissed his way up Reese’s toned stomach to capture her mouth again. When their lips met, it wasn’t in quiet, leisurely postcoital comfort. These two were still tense, quivering with unchecked need. Rylan’s erection hung heavy between his legs. Reese shifted restlessly beneath him, her legs swinging up to wrap around his body and pull him close.

			Sloan could see her turmoil. She needed more but didn’t want to ask for it. Didn’t want to come off as needy. Didn’t want to even acknowledge that one tongue-induced orgasm wasn’t going to set her free tonight.

			“That’s all you got, boy?” Sloan mocked. “Reese gave you the blow job of your life, and you’re just going to eat her out and go?”

			Rylan tore his mouth from Reese and swung an angry gaze in Sloan’s direction. “Your dick broken?”

			Man didn’t like having his performance critiqued like that. Tough shit. Reese deserved more than she was getting, and Rylan was holding back. Sloan would have to push them both over the edge while still serving as their anchor when they needed to be reeled back to shore.

			“Leave him alone, Sloan,” Reese admonished.

			She sat up, her body flushed, but Sloan could tell by the fever in her eyes that she wasn’t satiated. Far from it. Reese had a big appetite and he was tired of her denying herself.

			“Why should I? This guy’s been talking a big game ever since he moved into our orbit. He’s been telling you he’ll be the best lay you’ve ever had, but all he’s done is get his tongue wet.”

			“I’m being a gentleman,” Rylan protested, raking an agitated hand through his hair.

			Reese coughed lightly in her hand to cover a laugh, but Sloan went for the jugular. “Who wants a gentleman in the bed? Reese, you have a new kink I don’t know about?”

			“No, but I’m good.” She slid toward the edge of the mattress.

			Rylan caught her arm and dragged her back. “Fine. You want it hard? I’ll give you hard.” Then he flipped her over in one smooth motion, so quick and easy that Sloan barely saw it happen.

			Reese yelped and then struggled as Rylan pushed her head into the pillow that she used for the few hours that she allowed herself to rest. One more move and her hands were clasped at the small of her back. Ass up and restrained, she’d never looked more tempting.

			“This rough enough for you?” Rylan growled as he yanked hard on her hair.

			Her response was to grind her ass into Rylan’s groin. This time it was Sloan who raised a hand to smother the laugh. Or maybe it was a groan.

			“Enough talking,” Sloan rasped. “Give her your dick or get out.”

			Rylan snarled but tried to obey, as he’d done every other time Sloan had issued an order. But Sloan saw the problem immediately—Rylan had one hand around her wrists and the other in her hair.

			“Then get over here and restrain her,” the blond outlaw bit out. “I don’t have three hands.”

			Sloan pushed himself out of the chair and approached the couple. Rylan’s grip in Reese’s hair loosened just enough that she could turn her head. The desire in her eyes started to cloud with worry as Sloan got closer.

			“Give me your hands.” His voice was harsh, implacable. He was her rock. Always, forever. Even in this. His brusqueness was what she needed.

			Rylan released her wrists and immediately stroked her pussy with his newly freed hand, while Reese jerked and gasped.

			Sloan caught her hands, pulling her forward, past the bed so that her upper body hung in the air, held upright only by his hold. Her delectable breasts swayed between them, like the pendulum on the big clock in the center of West City. Mesmerizing and beautiful, the vision held the men in thrall.

			The hard-on in his pants pushed insistently against the zipper. Later, after Reese slept, he’d slip away and jack off so hard and long his dick would be raw for days. But tonight, his cock would remain restrained.

			“Sloan.”

			His name. Her lips. The sound was so soft, it was almost a puff of breath. He raised his eyes to hers at the same moment that Rylan plunged inside her.

			Reese’s mouth opened. A gasp escaped. The hard slap of flesh against flesh filled the room as Rylan powered into her. His thrusts were measured but fierce, and Sloan couldn’t help but admire the strong lines of the other man’s body. The taut muscles flexing as Rylan knelt behind Reese and gave it to her hard.

			Sloan’s gaze rested on Rylan’s tattoos, the random lines of black text inked onto that powerful chest. Some were done in an elegant script font; others were in block letters. No images, though. Just words that Sloan forced himself not to read, because he wasn’t sure he wanted to know more about Rylan than he had to.

			“You like that?” Rylan growled. “I’ve wanted this for so long. Just to push you down and drive into you until your whole world was my dick.”

			Sloan answered for her. “Tell him. Tell him how it feels. How you like it.”

			Reese dragged her lower lip between her teeth and bit down until the red plush velvet turned white. “I like it hard. Exactly like you’re doing.”

			Her eyelids started to flutter closed, shutting Sloan out.

			“Eyes up on me,” he barked out.

			Rylan pulled her hair until it was impossible for Reese to do anything but stare directly at Sloan. Her face came close to his each time Rylan jacked into her in an unforgiving and determined pace that went on for longer than Sloan—and Reese—had anticipated. Reese’s hands grew slick. Sweat beaded around Rylan’s forehead and dropped on Reese’s ass. Both of them took on a sheen as the temperature in the room rose at least ten degrees.

			And Sloan never moved. Not an inch. Not once.

			Not even when Reese’s mouth dropped open and she began to chant short, nonsensical words. Rylan’s name, Sloan’s name, God’s name, until it was one rhythmic plea.

			GodSloanYesRylanMoreFuckMoreYesMooooore.

			Rylan wasn’t much better. “Jesus, you feel like a goddamn miracle. You’re so tight. So fucking tight. I’m not gonna last. Come, goddamn you. Come.”

			His command worked as effectively as any of Sloan’s. Reese came with a scream, her body jerking and shuddering as Rylan kept hammering into her, seeking his own release. The two of them were mindless, and Sloan was so turned on he wondered, briefly, if he was going to come in his pants.

			But his control was greater than he’d thought. Despite the agony in his groin, he kept his cool. Until Reese’s eyes fluttered open and he saw the hunger in them, and he realized his restraint was about to be tested again.

			She still hadn’t had enough.

			“Grab her some water,” he snapped at Rylan. “And then come back and get yourself hard again. You’re not done here.”

			Reese damn near purred at that.

			Fuck.

			It was going to be a long night.





6


			Rylan woke up naked and alone. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and realized he was sprawled on Reese’s bed. Weird. He didn’t even remember falling asleep last night. And he was genuinely surprised she hadn’t kicked him out after the sex.

			The mind-melting, body-numbing sex.

			The best sex of his life.

			A part of him wondered if he’d dreamed it. He’d screwed her, what, five, six times?

			The amount of orgasms he’d had seemed biologically impossible.

			It happened, though. It must have, because he could still hear Sloan’s raspy orders in his head, commanding him to fuck Reese again and again and again.

			Rylan sat up and arched his back to stretch it. Jesus. He was sore as shit. And pretty sure he’d pulled a muscle in his groin when he’d drilled Reese from behind that last time.

			Unwittingly, his gaze moved to the armchair next to the bed. It was empty. But it hadn’t been empty last night. Sloan had sat in that chair and watched . . . when he wasn’t helping to hold Reese down.

			Damn, that had been so hot. Rylan had known Reese was a passionate woman, but now he understood why men got that glazed look in their eyes whenever they talked about sleeping with her.

			Last night had been . . . intense.

			And he wanted, with every fiber of his being, to do it again.

			He lazily climbed off the futon and did another stretch, a tremor of excitement rippling through him when he heard footsteps beyond the door. But, no. They were too heavy, the thump of a man’s boots rather than the soft tread of a woman’s.

			Sure enough, the door swung open and Sloan appeared. “Morning,” he said roughly.

			Rylan raked a hand through his tousled hair. “Morning.” He peered past Sloan’s broad shoulders, but Reese was nowhere in sight.

			Swallowing his disappointment, he focused back on Sloan. The man wore faded jeans that rode low on his hips and a red plaid shirt he was in the process of buttoning up, but not before Rylan caught a glimpse of defined pectorals and the hard ridges of Sloan’s abs. The man was jacked. And a lot more attractive than Rylan had realized, though he hadn’t exactly been looking.

			But at six-four, with his dark beard and rugged face, Sloan was damn easy on the eyes. Which made it all the more bizarre that Reese wasn’t screwing him.

			“Where’s Reese?” Rylan asked lightly.

			Sloan snapped the last button in place, then rolled up his sleeves, revealing his muscular forearms. “Visiting with Bethany.”

			Rylan’s hand slipped from the top of his head to squeeze the back of his neck. He would’ve stopped in to see Bethany last night, but the raiding party hadn’t reached Foxworth until late. He hadn’t wanted to wake her up. Pregnant women needed sleep, right?

			Or had she already had the baby?

			Sloan must have read his thoughts, because he said, “She’s ready to pop any day now.”

			Shit. Rylan wondered who was going to help with the delivery. Reese? Beckett? He doubted anyone in town had much experience with delivering babies.

			Procreation was strictly forbidden in the Colonies; it was the council’s way of controlling a population that had once been in the billions. Nowadays, the GC decided how many babies were born, and to whom. The female breeders and male studs were chosen based on genetics and traits that the council felt were desirable, and if you weren’t picked to breed, you were shit out of luck. Sterilized like a defective mare.

			Although nobody was monitoring who slept with whom in the free land, most outlaws chose to use protection rather than sire offspring. Life was already dangerous enough as it was. Add a screaming infant to the mix, or a toddler clutching his mama’s skirts, a six-year-old throwing a tantrum . . . it was too risky. If an outlaw was caught with a child, the latter was whisked off to the city while the former ate an Enforcer’s bullet for breaking the law. And if you did manage to hide your kid, there was an extra mouth to feed and an extra body to clothe. Kids were too much of a hassle, at least in Rylan’s opinion.

			His old friend Arch had disagreed. Rylan had balked when he’d heard that Arch and Bethany were having a baby. The couple had decided it was worth the risk, but look where that had gotten them. Now Bethany was nearly nine months pregnant and all alone, because two months ago Arch had died at the hands of an Enforcer.

			So had Kade.

			Rylan’s throat tightened. The losses were still too raw, a wound that refused to scab over because the memory of Kade and Arch was everywhere. In Xander’s grief-stricken eyes. In Bethany’s huge swollen belly. He couldn’t escape them, no matter how hard he tried to shove the painful memories aside.

			“If I’m still here when she goes into labor, come find me,” he told Sloan.

			The man looked startled. “Why would I do that?”

			“I grew up on a farm. When our animals gave birth, I was there helping with the deliveries. Had my entire arm inside a cow once, trying to turn a calf that was breeched. Fun times.”

			Sloan’s lips twitched slightly.

			“You’re allowed to laugh, you know.” Rylan rolled his eyes. “I won’t tell your mistress if you don’t want me to.”

			Immediately, the man’s expression hardened. “If Bethy’s in labor when you’re here, someone will get you.” Sloan turned toward the door. “Time for you to go. Reese won’t want you in here when she gets back.”

			He bristled. “And why’s that?”

			“Because she got what she needed last night. She’s not looking for a repeat performance.”

			Rylan slanted his head. “Yeah? And when is she planning on telling me this?”

			“She just did.”

			Sloan’s expressionless eyes grated on Rylan’s nerves almost as much as the impassive words. He didn’t understand their relationship. Sloan and Reese. Queen and . . . knight? Bodyguard? They weren’t sleeping together. They weren’t openly affectionate. And yet something bound them together. Sloan spoke on Reese’s behalf, and Reese, a woman who never let anyone give her orders, allowed him to do that.

			“What if I have a problem with that?” Rylan challenged.

			Sloan shrugged. “What can I tell you, boy? She doesn’t want seconds. Tough shit.”

			“Would you cut it out with that ‘boy’ crap? You’re what, a year older than me? Two?” Sloan couldn’t be a day over thirty, and Rylan was tired of him acting like he was older and wiser. He was also damn tired of staring at Sloan’s smug face. “And I don’t give a shit if Reese wants to use you as her mouthpiece. She doesn’t want seconds? Well, fine. She’ll just have to tell me that herself.”

			Not bothering to hide his annoyance, he muscled past Sloan and marched out of the bedroom.


* * *

			Reese curled both hands around the cracked ceramic mug and breathed in the mint-flavored steam rising from the rim. It heated the tip of her nose and brought a much-needed rush of warmth. She’d felt chilled to the bone all morning, and it had nothing to do with the dipping temperature outside.

			“So the raid was a success?” The very pregnant Bethany waddled over to the small sofa under the window.

			Reese nodded. “We’ve got enough guns and ammo to start a war.”

			Bethany’s eyebrows flicked up. “Or a revolution.”

			“Same thing.”

			“Is it?”

			She didn’t even know anymore. Reese lifted the mug to her lips and took a small sip, all the while doing her best to avoid looking at Bethany’s bulging stomach. Seeing it reminded her of her own losses, the choice that had been stolen from her. And it reminded her of Arch, the ginger-haired giant who was never going to see his baby come into this world.

			Arch had been a good man, an exceptional soldier. Everyone in town was still grieving for him, but none more so than his woman, whose brown eyes fixed on Reese now.

			“What’s going on?” Bethany stroked her belly in absentminded gestures. “You look worried.”

			Reese set down her mug. “Nah, I’m fine.”

			“Bullshit. Something’s up.”

			She hesitated, because she didn’t confide in many people. Sloan was the one she went to when she was feeling vulnerable. Sometimes Lennox. Tamara. But for all the others, she put on a strong front. She was their leader, which meant they weren’t allowed to see her worrying, or vacillating, or drowning in self-doubt.

			She’d known Bethany a long time, though. Shit, it had been almost eight years now. The two women were seventeen when they’d first crossed paths. Where the hell did the time go?

			“I did something stupid last night,” she found herself confessing.

			“Yeah? What’d you do?”

			“Rylan.”

			Bethany snorted. “Ah. So he finally charmed his way into your bed?”

			The humor in Bethany’s eyes was such a welcome sight that Reese’s heart squeezed. In the two months since Arch’s death, Bethany’s expressions had alternated between completely vacant and raw with grief.

			“How was it?” Bethany pressed.

			How was it? Reese couldn’t even begin to answer that. Hell, she wasn’t sure there were actual words in the English language that could describe what went down between the two of them last night.

			No, the three of them.

			Her wrists were still sore from Sloan’s punishing grip. He’d held her, restrained her so she was at Rylan’s mercy. Sloan’s mercy. The memory sent a rush of desire to her core, which only confused her body. She didn’t even know who she’d been coming for last night. Rylan? Or Sloan? Or both?

			What she did know was that she’d done a very bad thing. A dangerous thing.

			Rylan had been as wild and addictive as she’d suspected he’d be, but . . . she’d crossed a line with Sloan. She’d stared into his eyes while she was sobbing in release. She’d clung to him while Rylan screwed her hard enough to make her see stars. She’d threatened their friendship, and for what? A few orgasms?

			It wasn’t fair to Sloan. She knew damn well that he wanted her—she’d always known—yet she’d selfishly asked him to be there last night, even though it must have been torture for him.

			What kind of friend did that make her?

			“You’re worrying me again.”

			Bethany’s quiet voice jolted her from her thoughts. “I’m sorry,” Reese murmured. She picked up her mug and took another long sip. “My head is foggy this morning.”

			“Good sex will do that to you.” Bethany’s faint smile was betrayed by the sadness in her tone.

			“I guess. Anyway.” Reese finally lowered her gaze to Bethany’s belly. “I came here to talk about you. How are you doing, honey?”

			“I’m fine.”

			“Bethy.”

			The woman let out a shaky breath. “Okay, I’m not fine. I’m fucking terrified.” She had both hands on her stomach now. “I have to pee every five seconds. This kid keeps me awake at night with all his kicking. My back hurts. And I’m dreading the birth, I really am.” Her face grew ashen. “What if something goes wrong?”

			“It won’t,” Reese said firmly.

			“You can’t be sure of that. I could die.”

			“You won’t die, Bethy.” She wasn’t usually one to offer false assurances— especially when they all knew how fleeting life in the free land could be—but there was no way in hell she was letting Bethany even consider the possibility of dying in childbirth. “We have two medics who’ll look after you. And the other camp leaders will be showing up in a day or two. That means Connor, which means he’ll be bringing his woman. Hudson was a nurse in the city. If you feel comfortable having her around, she could be an asset.”

			“I don’t feel comfortable about any of this,” Bethany muttered. She paused, then released a strangled cry. “I can’t do this alone! Why the fuck am I doing this alone? Arch was supposed to be here for this! He was supposed to hold my hand and mop the sweat from my brow and . . . and . . .” She trailed off, her entire face collapsing.

			Reese instantly slid closer and took Bethany’s hands in hers. The woman’s fingers were ice-cold. “I’ll be there,” she said fiercely. “I’ll hold your hand and mop the sweat, honey. You won’t be alone, I promise you that.”

			The assurances fell on deaf ears. Bethany’s eyes filled with tears, her dark lashes growing wet. “I miss him,” she whispered.

			Reese drew a ragged breath and tried to ignore the deep pain in her chest. She dropped Bethany’s hands and picked up her mug, hoping the heat of it would warm her ice-cold body. It felt like someone was stabbing her heart with a rusty knife, each sharp thrust bringing the same scathing accusation: Arch died because of you.

			The Enforcer who’d shot Arch had been aiming for Reese. That bullet was meant for her, but Arch had stepped in front of it. He’d lost his life protecting her.

			Reese could barely breathe as the memory crushed her windpipe.

			“I know you do,” she mumbled. “We all miss him.”

			The tears slid out, staining Bethany’s cheeks. “Do you ever miss Jake?”

			Reese’s head flew up in shock. Nobody in Foxworth ever said Jake’s name these days. Most of the new folks hadn’t known him, and the original members liked to pretend he never existed.

			“No, I don’t.” The words were wrenched out of her throat, burning it on their way out.

			Bethany brushed the tears from her eyes and said, “It’s okay to miss him, Reese.”

			“No, it’s not.”

			“Yes, it is.” Bethany spoke firmly. “You loved him.”

			“Not by the end,” she said sadly.

			No, she’d loathed him by the end. Fucking despised him. And . . . and . . . goddamn it, yes! She’d also loved him. She’d loved and hated him, and she’d hated herself for being able to feel both emotions in equal measure.

			Maybe if the hatred had been stronger, she could’ve stopped him sooner. Instead, she’d stood by and watched as his behavior became increasingly tyrannical. Cruel. Nauseating.

			She and Sloan had both seen Jake losing control, but they’d been loyal to him. Too loyal. Neither of them had stepped in until it was too late.

			Reese sucked in another breath, but it didn’t help. She still felt dizzy, and she couldn’t stop the grisly images from flashing through her mind. Couldn’t shut out the screams she’d heard coming from her bedroom that horrible night three years ago. Her hands trembled as she remembered opening the door and seeing Jake with Cassie. Seeing the wild look in his eyes. And Cassie’s stricken face. The blood . . .

			“Reese.”

			She squeaked when she felt a punishing grip on her chin, when her head was yanked up.

			“I’m sorry,” Bethany murmured. “I shouldn’t have brought him up. But you need to let go of that mug before you cut yourself, sweetie.”

			Blankly, Reese stared down at her hands and realized she’d been clenching the mug so tightly that the crack on its side had fractured, leaving two jagged pieces between her fingers and warm liquid on her lap and the sofa cushion.

			“Fuck,” she swore. “Let me clean this up.”

			Bethany started to get up. “I can do it—”

			“No. Sit. I’ll do it.” She flew off the sofa and into the tiny kitchen. But the apartment Bethany had shared with Arch had an open layout, which meant the other woman could see Reese moving around in the kitchen, could see how shaken up she was.

			Without a word, Reese dumped the broken mug into the trashcan, then grabbed a rag and hurried back to mop up the stain on the sofa. Her throat was tight with shame. Not just for ruining Bethany’s couch, but for everything. Arch’s death. Jake’s death. Flaunting her naked body in front of Sloan last night when she knew he lusted for her.

			She was a goddamn bitch. The way she treated him, it was a wonder that man had stuck by her side all these years.

			“Listen, I don’t want you to worry about the delivery,” Reese said, finally meeting her friend’s eyes. “I’m going to take care of you. We all will.”

			Bethany nodded.

			“Anyway.” She feigned a careless tone. “I’ve got to check in with Beckett about a few things, and then I’m heading over to the field behind the high school to check on the crops that Gwen is experimenting with. If you need anything, find Sloan, okay?”

			“Okay.”

			She gave Bethany a quick, awkward hug good-bye, then ducked out the door before the woman could say another word.

			On the front stoop of the two-story building, Reese took a series of deep, calming breaths. It didn’t help. She was rattled. Mad at herself for falling apart in front of Bethany. She was supposed to lead, damn it, not slice her chest open and display all her fears and insecurities to the people who trusted her to be confident and unafraid.

			“Reese,” a timid voice called out.

			She turned her head to find one of her teenage charges approaching. It was Christine, the quiet fourteen-year-old who’d joined them less than a year ago. Sloan and Beckett found her and her two older brothers living in the woods about a hundred miles south of Foxworth. The men had brought the three siblings home with them, but while Christine’s brothers had adjusted to their new camp almost immediately, the girl remained shy and withdrawn even after ten months of living inside the town gates.

			“What do you need, honey?” Reese asked.

			“I didn’t want to bother you, but”—Christine grimaced and then lowered her voice—“my, uh, time came.”

			“Your time?” Reese was momentarily confused.

			The girl waved a hand toward her pants. “Yeah, you know. My girl time?”

			Ahh. Reese got it now. Fighting a smile, she reached out to ruffle Christine’s brown hair. “That’s perfectly normal. Remember we talked about it before? Did you use your supplies?”

			“Yes. I just . . .” There was a frustrated sigh.

			“Are you in pain? Does it hurt?” Reese pushed.

			Christine’s face screwed up. “Yeah . . . is that normal? To hurt so much?”

			“Unfortunately, yes. One of the many amazing perks of being a woman,” she said dryly, then slid an arm around the girl’s shoulders.

			That was all the encouragement Christine needed—the teenager threw her slender body against Reese, wrapping her arms around Reese’s waist. “Thank you for taking us in. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

			Reese allowed herself a moment to treasure this. This girl and her siblings. The people she’d sworn to protect.

			This war she’d started . . . it wasn’t simply about destroying the council for her own bloodlust. It was about making the world a safe place for Christine and all the girls who would come after her. It was allowing Christine to have the choices that the council had taken away from Reese.

			“Go see Bethany and ask her for a pill,” she said softly. “Take half of one, then get a hot water bottle and lie down.”

			Christine nodded.

			“We’ll talk more later, all right, honey? I need to go to the garage now to see Beckett.”

			Christine nodded shyly, then flitted away.

			Reese had barely taken two steps down the sidewalk when another voice called out to her. Her shoulders instantly tensed. Shit. Rylan was making his way toward her.

			She should’ve never given in to him.

			“We need to talk,” he said as he neared.

			She kept walking. “Told Sloan to talk to you.”

			“Didn’t take you for a coward.”

			That got her attention. She halted and swiveled toward him. “What was that?”

			He planted his hands on his hips and gave her a half-amused, half-exasperated look. She itched to punch it right off his face.

			“You heard me.” He closed the distance between them. “You want to tell me off, then tell me to my face, otherwise I’m gonna assume that you’re too chicken. Because we both know last night was the best sex of your life.”

			She forced out a laugh. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

			A feral look spread across his face, sharpening his cheekbones and darkening his eyes. “It was.”

			Reese swayed on her feet, assaulted by the memory of his hands, Sloan’s hands, Rylan’s thick cock, the ache between her thighs. “I—”

			“Enforcers at the gate!” someone yelled from the watchtower.

			“Goddammit,” Reese muttered.

			Rylan reached for her, but she danced backward. She didn’t need his touch right now, even if it was meant to be protective. There were more important things to worry about than whether she should sleep with him again.

			But damned if it wasn’t the one thought that lingered in her mind as she stalked toward the front gate.





7


			As the gates opened with a loud metallic grind, Sloan couldn’t fight the growing tension in his body. Couldn’t stop from scowling either, though his inability to paste on a happy face was probably why he wasn’t the leader of this town.

			His queen, on the other hand, was all smiles when she arrived to face the West City Enforcers. Reese could be damn charming when she wanted to, but it was obvious to Sloan that charm wasn’t going to cut it today. The team of men that marched into the courtyard wouldn’t be appeased by a friendly welcome—they were giving off some serious hostility, which didn’t bode well for the longstanding arrangement between Foxworth and the Enforcers.

			For years, the town had reaped the benefits of the alliance. Foxworth offered good booze, a warm bed, and, if the ladies were willing, even warmer women to the Enforcers who spent weeks at a time patrolling West Colony. In exchange, they left Foxworth alone.

			The bargained-for alliance had allowed Reese to build Foxworth into the fortified town it now was. The main gate wasn’t the only barricade; there was also one at the back, and each able-bodied man and woman patrolled every small space in between.

			“Your color’s high,” Sloan murmured when Reese stepped to the side of the gravel-lined courtyard.

			Her flushed cheeks told him that the arrival of the Enforcers had interrupted a seduction. Predictably, one night hadn’t been enough for Rylan. Sloan didn’t blame him. If Sloan could only pack away his guilt and fear, he’d probably need a full week between Reese’s legs just to take the edge off. He’d want to wreck himself on her body, drilling her until they were both unconscious.

			“I don’t like this,” she replied, ignoring his observation. “It’s too soon after the raid.”

			“You suspected they’d come for you.”

			“Being right doesn’t make me feel better.”

			Sloan shrugged unsympathetically. “Better get to it. They’re waiting.”

			One of the Enforcers had climbed out of the two-truck convoy and was tapping his long gun against the distinctive red stripe along the outer seam of his trousers. Sloan could hardly tell those bastards apart with their buzzed hair and uniforms. They were like toys the council wound up and set off in motion every morning.

			Despite her pasted-on smile, Reese finally revealed a hint of her true feelings in the rigid set of her shoulders. Both she and Sloan were well aware that the ten armed soldiers in front of them could kill everyone in the camp if they wanted.

			“Is Bethany getting everyone situated?” she asked quietly.

			“Her and Nash,” he replied, and saw some of the tension ease out of her shoulders.

			Since outlaws weren’t allowed to have kids, the very pregnant Bethany and the few children in town were forced to stay out of sight during Enforcer visits. They hid in a tiny concrete bunker below the freezer in the restaurant. At one time, it might’ve served as a cellar for the kitchen, but it was now Foxworth’s hidey-hole.

			“Good. The last thing we need is another bloodbath.”

			Sloan nodded grimly. Two months ago, a West City crew had showed up at the gates seeking shelter and aid. Reese hadn’t exactly thrown open the doors with glee, but she’d given them a place to bed down along with food and booze. Only problem was, one of them got it into his head that he needed a woman too, and instead of asking, he’d tried to take young Sarah against her will. Another teenager had shot the Enforcer dead, and the ensuing clusterfuck had left Arch dead, along with one of Connor’s men.

			Charlie, one of Reese’s Enforcer allies, had tried to bargain for his life, but Sloan had known that if they let Charlie and the others go, one of them would’ve spilled the beans and Foxworth would’ve been torched.

			Sloan had itched to kill them immediately, but he’d waited until Reese gave him the order. He’d always wondered if people realized that giving the order was always harder than pulling the trigger. And it broke his goddamn heart, because he knew just how heavily each kill weighed on Reese. But the thing about Reese was that she wasn’t afraid of making the tough calls, even at her own personal expense, and that was the reason Sloan would follow her until he died. Why he’d do everything in his power, even if he had to come back from the grave, to protect and help her in whatever way he could.

			“Why don’t you fuck her and be done with it?”

			Sloan turned to find Rylan approaching from his left. For a man that big, Rylan had a boxer’s agility, which he’d used very, very effectively to pleasure Reese last night. Watching the two of them had been the most erotic experience of Sloan’s life, he realized with a jolt.

			“I’ll hold your hand if you need it,” Rylan offered.

			“No.”

			“‘No’ what? No, you won’t fuck her or no you don’t need me to hold your hand?”

			“All of it,” Sloan answered.

			He stepped off the curb of the broken sidewalk and headed toward the soldiers. Rylan followed closely. Both men kept their arms loose at their sides in case they needed to draw a weapon.

			“Search it all. I’ve got nothing to hide,” Reese was informing an unhappy-looking Enforcer.

			“I’ll be the judge of that.” He seemed pissed that she was being compliant, but also unsure if it was a bluff.

			Sloan got it—people who were hiding things generally didn’t roll out the welcome mat.

			“Sloan, this is Eric. He’s part of the senior guard out of West City.”

			Shit. Sloan didn’t like this. The deals they had in place were with lieutenant Enforcers that outranked the senior guard: Nestor, Hal, and Charlie, though their ties to the latter had been severed the moment Sloan put a bullet in Charlie’s head. The presence of this new guy made him uneasy.

			Reese caught his eye and added, “He’s aware of our arrangement with Nestor and has assured me that he’s not here to change that. They’re just following up on a raid that apparently happened at one of their ammunitions depots.”

			Sloan rocked slightly on his heels, trying to look casual and nonmenacing. At well over six feet, it wasn’t always easy. “Heard about that. Must’ve been bandits.”

			Eric scoffed. “Right. A band of misfits rolled up to an ammo depot, took a huge cache of weapons and equipment, and disappeared.”

			“A bunch of bandits tried to rape one of our women a couple months back. We came across seven of them who were ransacking a town about three clicks north of here,” Sloan offered helpfully.

			“And where are they now?” Eric sounded skeptical.

			“Gone is my guess,” Sloan answered. “They tend to scurry off like the rats they are.”

			“And you think they scurried off to rob my ammo depot?”

			“Maybe. I can’t even begin to speculate about what those assholes might do.” Sloan shrugged, but he could tell that Eric wasn’t buying the bandit scenario. As he shouldn’t—bandits didn’t perform coordinated raids on heavily fortified compounds. They searched out the easiest prey, snuck in, stole shit, and ran off.

			Eric swung his assault rifle off his shoulder and raised a hand to motion his team forward. “We’ll be searching everything,” he informed Reese.

			“Be my guest, but I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your guns up,” she said with a touch of impatience.

			“Gates. Main Street. Park.” Eric used the tip of his rifle to point out each part of the town to his men.

			Sloan gave Reese and then Rylan a warning sign not to release the sarcastic remark that he knew was tingling the end of their tongues.

			“You’ve got a real town here,” Eric said, suspicion lining his tone. “When people dig in and grow roots, they start wanting to defend it.”

			“Is that against the council’s rules?” Rylan interjected.

			Eric swiveled around, the barrel of his rifle pointing directly into Rylan’s gut. “Your entire existence is against the colony laws.”

			Rylan didn’t even flinch. He merely raised his hand and pushed the barrel aside. “Yeah? Sure doesn’t stop your lieutenants from popping in and drinking our booze every chance they get.”

			“I can’t control what my superiors choose to do,” Eric said stiffly, “but that doesn’t mean I condone it.”

			“And you can’t do a damn thing about it.” Rylan grinned at the tense Enforcer. “Damn shame, huh? That your boss Nestor won’t let you burn this place to the ground? I bet the thought of lighting that match gives you a raging boner.”

			Sloan almost snorted with laughter.

			“Enjoy this place while it lasts,” Eric warned. “Lieutenant Nestor won’t be there to hold your hand forever.”

			“Are you guys done gabbing?” Reese muttered. “I’m sure Eric has other towns to terrorize today.”

			He gave her a thin smile. “No. You’re it on my list.” But he motioned for his men to move forward, and the search began in earnest.

			Foxworth had plenty of nice houses on the farthest edges of the town boundaries, but the square in the middle was small. Along with the gravel courtyard and the park Eric had pointed out, there was one