Copyright © 2017 Michelle Woods
All rights reserved
All rights reserved
He yanked at the collar of his shirt, glancing around the little picnic area. Hell, there sure were a lot of civvies here today. His throat closed up again and he wanted to rip his shirt off and toss it to the ground—or into a fire. Dang, why was this damned thing so tight? He tugged again—sure that he was getting a rash. It was like his neck was wrapped in a sausage casing that was three sizes too small. He glanced around at the people surrounding him feeling hemmed in.
He didn’t want to be here.
Fuck, this was torture. What in the hell had possessed him to make him say yes to his mom when she’d asked him to come to this thing? He didn’t fucking know, but it had been a mistake that was for damned sure. Okay, maybe Gunner knew why. He just didn’t want to admit it. His mom had given him that pleading look of hers last weekend while he was at her house and he’d caved. He needed to grow a pair and stop giving into her every time she gave him that look. If he’d done that last weekend, he wouldn’t be here now suffering this torment. A little shudder ran down his spine. If one more chick came up to him and asked if he was coming to church on Sunday, he was going to lose his shit.
This staid picnic wasn’t his scene—not at all. In his world, a picnic like this included a bonfire and half-naked women. Not these buttoned-up, limp-dicked men and women showing less skin than an Islamic country. He winced slightly at the thought, feeling like an asshole for thinking that even he knew the thought was racist. His mother was the only one he’d suffer this torture for. If it wasn’t for her—and that sad little pleading look she’d given him—he would be at the clubhouse or maybe out on a run. He was such a sucker. When she asked him to come to her church picnic for like the tenth time, he hadn’t been able to say no. Mostly because he was an idiot.
Even as he’d agreed, he’d cringed. Gunner knew his saying yes had made her happy and she was the only parent he had left—which meant here he was at this picnic, staring at thirty men who were so buttoned-up they looked like they were auditioning to be Mormons. He didn’t know how they were wearing ties with those shirts. He couldn’t even fathom wearing one—even the thought made him fidget and tug at his collar as he watched the gathered people standing around socializing. He was strangled with just the light blue button-up his mother had asked him to wear. Adding a tie would likely have cut off his circulation and inevitably killed him.
He needed to get a grip on this negativity because he’d agreed to be polite—but he hadn’t realized it would be his own personal hell. Standing in the middle of this mess of civvies thinking about adding collars to Chaos’s torture box, he wished he had balls. If he did, he could have ignored that look and moved on with his life.
Gunner knew these women that kept coming up to him, smiling coyly and asking about his plans for church on Sunday for the past forty minutes, would likely run for the hills if they knew who he really was. In their minds, they were already lining him up to be another one of these vanilla men who inhabited this picnic. Yeah, not fucking happening. They were out of luck. Despite his mother’s joining their Pentecostal lifestyle, he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t about to join the ranks of these obviously repressed dudes.
He would bet more than half of them jacked off to porn in the garage because they didn’t want their wives or girlfriends to know they weren’t eunuchs. He wasn’t knocking their choices. If they wanted this life, then more power to them but it wasn’t for him. He was grateful the church had been there for his mother when she’d needed them. They had made her feel safe and loved when she’d felt lost after he’d left home. She hadn’t really been okay for the four years before she’d joined. It was like his growing up left a hole in her life and this church had filled it for her. He knew that who he’d become had frightened her.
Honestly, his mom had been in denial about who he really was for years. She’d introduced him as ‘my son, Brandon’ like a dozen times today and all he could think was my name is Gunner, Mom. It was the name he’d been given by his brothers in the Grave Diggers MC when he’d joined five years ago. Back then, he’d been a messed-up youth, lost, and unmoored despite his mother’s attempts to tame him.
She’d done her best but working two jobs while trying to raise a teenager with anger issues hadn’t been easy. It was likely why she’d ended up at this church a year ago. She’d been looking for a way to fix him, unsure where she’d gone wrong. Gunner tried to tell her that him joining an MC wasn’t her fault but she was sure she’d done something wrong and nothing convinced her otherwise. Despite her dislike of the club, she never bugged him about it. She wasn’t one of those mothers who harped on him every minute trying to get him to straighten up and stop being who he was like Buck’s mom or Topper’s sister.
Nope, she just prayed.
Gunner didn’t want to feel bad about that but he did—just not enough to change his lifestyle for her. Being a part of the Diggers MC was the reason he hadn’t gone to jail years ago. Not that he hadn’t had some close calls while with the Diggers. Their life wasn’t free of dirty deeds. Some likely to land him in the slammer but he was less likely to get caught these days than he had been before he’d joined.
He had been seventeen when he’d robbed his first house and twenty-one when he’d tried to steal a car for the local chop shop but he’d been caught. Luckily, he was caught by Choke and he’d been offered a job instead of jail time. He took the job and five years later he was now twenty-six and part of the largest biker club in Arizona. He’d received his bottom rockers when he was twenty-three and had been a trusted member of the club for a little over a year. Being trusted meant more money in his pocket and less of the shit runs.
He felt a trickle of sweat run down his neck, so he leaned a little to the left trying to sink further into the shade of a nearby tree. His hand rubbed across the back of his neck where it itched trying not to tug at the collar again, unsuccessfully—his fingers straining the already abused top button.
“Stop pulling at your collar, Brandon,” Martha Jacobs hissed from beside him, earning a sideways look and a quick nod. He’d felt her walk up beside him a moment ago while he was contemplating the picnic but had waited for her to speak.
“Come over here and meet Maryann and her daughter, Lisa. They’re both very sweet. You might like Lisa, she’s about your age.” Martha was motioning towards two women setting up the large table of food that meant he was getting closer to busting out of this hell.
Umm, no Ma, I won’t like her if she goes to this church full of believers. Gunner didn’t say it aloud, not wanting to hurt her feelings. She was a kind woman who didn’t really understand him well because she couldn’t mesh the little boy with skinned knees with the dark man he’d become. He stared down at the top of her head feeling a little guilty again.
Martha was about five feet three, with greying black hair, a little more weight than was healthy and a belly laugh that made babies weep with envy. In other words, his mother was amazing. She was always willing to help others even when they didn’t deserve it or were too caught up in their own shit to thank her. Fuck, now he was a poet—he couldn’t help the snort that escaped him at that thought.
Gunner knew that she’d tried to straighten his life out when he’d started getting into trouble but sometimes even great parenting couldn’t turn a kid around. Sometimes, no matter how hard you tried to steer a child away from bad decisions, they still made them. He wasn’t saying he was a bad man. Gunner didn’t beat women up and his club wasn’t into trading flesh. They didn’t sell to kids and the hardest drugs they ran for the past two years was marijuana. He was no angel and half the people here would judge him harshly if they knew the truth. But he was his own man and that was what mattered to him. Anyone who didn’t like it could go to hell for all he cared. His mom was the only one who he tried to rein it in for.
“Sure,” he said trying not to grimace as he followed her over to where the two women were standing. Thank God, this day was almost over he thought when Martha smiled at them before jerking on his arm to pull him up beside her. The irony of thanking God for getting this day over with didn’t escape him; making his lips curl into a cold smile.
“Maryann. Oh, Maryann,” Martha called in a singsong voice as they neared the woman and her daughter. Standing beside Martha he was already regretting the fifteen to thirty minutes he’d have to spend with Lisa to make his mother happy.
Lisa wasn’t a bad looking woman with platinum blonde hair, nicely shaped tits and a lot of leg, which surprisingly, she wasn’t afraid to show off—at least to about one inch above her knee. He almost laughed at what she likely thought was a risqué display of leg. If he told anyone at this picnic about the amount of skin he normally saw daily, he’d likely end up needing a dozen ambulances.
“Maryann, have you met my son, Brandon?” Martha asked, her face a little flushed from the rush over to the two women. Maryann, a sour-faced woman with the same platinum hair as her daughter and a thin frame, smiled wanly at them. Gunner noted that when she regarded him, her eyes swept up and then back down before she settled on his face with that same wan smile on her lips, her eyes narrowed in a scary sort of consideration.
Uh-oh, that was the look of a mother thinking to marry him off to her daughter. If she only knew about his real lifestyle, him marrying her daughter would be the last fantasy that played through her head. A little snort escaped him which he hid by pretending to cough. He was sure that Maryann would be fitting Lisa for a chastity belt while trying to fend him off with a spoon if she ever discovered that Martha’s baby boy—his mother’s words not his—was a biker. From the calculating look Maryann had tossed his way, he’d bet his mother told her that her son owned a restaurant.
Although that was technically true—he’d bought an Italian restaurant a little over two years ago. He didn’t manage it himself. He had a management team for that who handled everything. He just collected his earnings. Considering Maryann and Lisa for a moment, he mentally began calculating the amount of time he’d have to make small talk with them to avoid upsetting his mother.
“I haven’t. It’s so nice to meet you, finally.” Her voice held an edge that stirred his ire a little because it was obvious she was poking at his mother for not bringing him to an event sooner.
Gunner had turned down more than a dozen invites to events just like this one over the past year because he didn’t want to deal with the very bullshit he was currently dealing with—her and her daughter, whom she likely thought was perfect. Gunner was sure that wasn’t the case. If there was one thing Gunner understood, it was women. He’d always had a knack for understanding them even as a much younger man. Maybe it stemmed from being a single mother’s male child or maybe it was a God-given gift that he’d been born with. He didn’t know or care how he could see through them, he just did. Which meant he understood the jab she’d just delivered to his mother was meant to wound her and he didn’t like it one damned bit.
“Indeed. Mother’s been trying to get me to come to one of these for months.” Gunner’s voice was firm and his eyes cold as they met hers. Maryann huffed a little and shrugged before grabbing her daughter’s arm and pulling her forward. He would bet she was also mentally debating if introducing them was a good idea when she paused, gazing at him. He could almost see the wheels turning in her head and he wasn’t surprised when the idea of winning her daughter a rich husband won out over her spiteful nature.
“Well, it’s nice of you to come. You and Lisa are around the same age you know. She’s just graduated with honors from beauty school.” Maryann trumpeted, making her daughter shift a little as she winced.
“I was just top of the class, mom. I didn’t have any honors.”
“It’s the same thing.” Her mother insisted.
Yeah, no, it wasn’t.
Even if it had been, to him it mattered less than shit on a baboon’s butt. Gunner wanted to walk away but he caught his mother’s hopeful look. Damn, his mother’s only goal lately seemed to be getting him married and filling her house with grandbabies. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that babies were about as likely as him joining this church. He’d had a vasectomy three years ago because he never wanted kids brought into the life he led. He wasn’t okay with the danger aspect of his life being pushed onto a helpless kid who would likely have issues similar to his own. It would break her heart to know he had that surgery, but condoms—which he still used faithfully—weren’t foolproof.
“Well, why don’t you two kids talk. Martha and I need to see about the drinks.” Maryann hooked her arm into his mother’s and dragged her away. Not that she attempted to stay, but Gunner really didn’t have any interest in Lisa. Church-going ladies were not his thing.
“Geez, could they be any more obvious?” Lisa asked rolling her eyes and earning a bit of a smile from him.
“I’m sure they could if they tried,” Gunner muttered, a slight snort leaving him.
“I don’t mean to break your heart here,” Lisa added dryly her smile a little wicked. “but I have a boyfriend. Mother just doesn’t approve.”
“Thank God. I was dreading another half hour trying not to hurt your feelings as I politely steered the conversation away from us being a couple.” Gunner felt a genuine smile curl his lips.
“Ha, I bet you have had to steer these nincompoops away from that conversation. How do you stand it? I was ready to slap a sticker on my forehead that said in a relationship from the moment I arrived here with Mom. She has been trying to set me up with any man here because my boyfriend is a drummer in a local band and she hates him. If I have to talk to one more idiot who thinks I’m ready to be his obedient ‘wifey’ I will go insane.” Lisa laughed a high tinkling sound. Gunner couldn’t help the smile that curled his lips because Lisa was the first person at this gathering that didn’t annoy the fuck out of him.
“Yeah. I was thinking a neon flashing sign that said ‘uninterested’ would be right for me.” Gunner felt his tense shoulders loosen. It was nice to let his guard down and have a normal conversation.
“You don’t need it. Your face screams it and I’m sure most of the dumbasses here see it but they’re just ignoring it. It was how I knew I could just come right out and say I was taken the second I was alone with you. The women here are all brainwashed into thinking they should act like a simpering fool in order to find a ‘nice’ man. It’s pathetic,” Lisa snorted her head shaking as she glanced around the picnic.
“You’re not really a part of this church, are you?” Gunner asked because he knew from his mother’s obsessive reminders that cussing was considered a sin in her circle, that Lisa was likely not as devout. He knew religious beliefs were nothing to poke fun at but sometimes he just wasn’t sure how to handle it. He had never been very good at understanding faith.
“Lord, don’t tell my mother, but no, not anymore. I stopped believing that I had to bend to a man and subvert my whole self to be godly when I was twenty-two and started beauty college. That’s where I met Tim, my boyfriend. He came in to get his hair cut one day and we hit it off. He makes quite a living off his music which isn’t going to make him rich but he loves it. And before you judge him, he has an engineering degree that he can fall back on if the music stops paying the bills, so it’s not like he’s a loser. We’ve been together for over two years but Mom won’t even give him a chance.” Lisa sighed, her hands busy rearranging the napkins on the table. She was putting them into neat little rows that were all even and spoke to OCD issues if he had to guess. He wasn’t unfamiliar with those issues, as he had OCD himself and couldn’t imagine dating someone with the same problem. They would likely kill each other because one would line up the napkins one way and the other would come along and redo it because it was slightly off. Geez, that would end up being a never-ending cycle.
“Ah, well, you won’t hear me judging and if she knew the truth about my life she’d really hate me as your boyfriend.” Gunner let out a strained chuckle, shaking his head.
“Oooh, sounds juicy. Dish. Why would she hate you?” Lisa asked, her brows wiggling. He debated for a moment, glancing around to see who was close enough to hear their conversation before answering her because he didn’t want his mother treated poorly because of who he ran with.
“I’m a rider for the Diggers MC.” Gunner whispered, deciding to trust her discretion.
“No shit?” Gunner nodded when she sent him a questioning look.
“Wow, she really would have a hissy fit over that,” Lisa said laughing. “And to think she is all bent about Tim. I won’t tell her but if I could, I can just see the look of abject horror on her face.”
Gunner shared her laughter and the two of them spent another thirty minutes chatting; both appreciating the chance to let down their guard and be themselves for a few minutes. It didn’t last long because as soon as the food was served, they were forced to socialize with other people. Gunner got his plate and decided to see if he could find a quiet place to breathe for a moment. His mother had introduced him to three more women and two of them were particularly annoying. He needed a minute to just calm down so he didn’t end up telling them to fuck off when they approached him.
He walked away from the socializing groups, spotting Lisa talking to a man and when their eyes met she crossed her eyes looking at her nose. Gunner chuckled, silently asking if she needed help getting rid of the guy with a little shrug and a bit of pointing. Lisa shook her head motioning for him to escape. He nodded heading off towards a little bench he saw over by a cropping of trees nearby. Gunner wasn’t one to play knight-in-shining-armor to any woman’s damsel-in-destress. If she didn’t want help, he wasn’t offering it. He walked around to sit beneath the tree rather than on the bench because he would be harder to see by the people making small talk at the tables a few feet away.
He began to eat some of the dumplings he’d gotten from the table, groaning because they were damned good. He tucked in eating most of the food he’d piled on his plate while periodically taking sips of the lemonade wishing it was something stronger. Anything to get him through the rest of this picnic. He would likely have to stay at least another forty minutes before he could make his escape from this living nightmare.
Reaching up, he tugged at the cloth prison his neck was still begging to escape from and set his plate aside. He’d left a few scraps on it but that was it. He leaned his head back into the tree about to get in a little catnap when he heard Katy Perry belting out Firework. Shocked at the sound of the music from this stuffed shirt group he glanced around the tree looking for the source.
“Damn, damn, stop. Oh God, please stop.” A husky almost sensual voice hissed from inside the thick bushes beside him. His cock twitched in his pants, its interest piqued by the throaty sound. Gunner raised a brow as he peered into the brush trying to see the woman who went with that sexy as fuck voice.