The wind whistled around Mia’s face and she pulled her scarf further up over her chin. It didn’t do a great deal to shield her from the biting cold, but it helped. A little bit.
Sitting down on a bench overlooking an angry
North Sea, she clasped her hands together between her knees, staring out at the waves as they whipped high into the darkening sky. The sound they made verged on terrifying, if you closed your eyes and listened. Like a low, deep, tortured moan that reached its crescendo as the water hit the shore with a brutal flourish.
Standing up, she dug her hands into the pockets of her jacket, her eyes still staring straight ahead. There was a part of her that found the sight of that cold, dark sea and those crashing waves inviting – peaceful, even, in a warped, twisted kind of way. But maybe that was the kind of peace she was looking for. The kind she needed.
Closing her eyes she took a long, deep breath, exhaling slowly, scrunching her fists up inside her pockets, her finger nails digging into the palms of her hands. But the pain was nothing. She’d felt worse. She’d let worse be inflicted upon her.
Pulling her right hand out of her pocket she looked down at the fresh bruising on her knuckles. It was harder to make out in the fading light and she drew her hand closer, narrowing her eyes as she stared at the colors that were slowly starting to show themselves – the dark gray, the deep orange; the almost blue-tinged edges that were beginning to form. Who knew bruises could be so beautiful? She’d just never realized…
Balling her hand back into a fist she cocked her head as she watched the nature of those bruises change; how they stretched, the colours merging in a whole different way. It was mesmerizing to watch. Until the loud crashing of another wave on to the deserted beach below shook her out of her almost trance-like state, and she quickly shoved her hand back into her pocket, wincing slightly as her bruised knuckles hit the keys lying in there.
She should be getting back. She had nowhere else to go anyway. Even grabbing this fleeting moment of freedom had been dangerous, so she couldn’t stay here. Not for much longer. She should never have left in the first place.
Turning and walking back over to the bike she stopped for a second, pulling her hand back out of her pocket, letting her fingers run slowly over the cool chrome and black leather. It seemed such an easy option, to climb on to that bike and just ride. To get as far away from here as she could. Such an easy option…
Charlie Hart sat back in his chair, flinging his feet up on to the desk, a heavy sigh racking his whole body.
‘Can I have a word, boss?’
Charlie looked at the tall, well-built man standing in the doorway, his short, dark-brown hair covered by a red and white bandana, his rough face sporting heavy stubble. ‘What do you want, Lennie?’
‘You seen Mia?’
‘No. She isn’t here,’ Charlie sighed, sitting up and pushing both hands through his graying hair. ‘I haven’t seen her all night.’ He stood up, digging his hands into his pockets as he walked over to Lennie. ‘Mia’s a big girl now. She can look after herself. She doesn’t need you checking up on her twenty-four-seven.’ The dried blood on Lennie’s left hand didn’t escape Charlie’s notice. ‘So why don’t you back off for a little while, huh? Give her some space.’
Lennie fixed Charlie with a look the older man had no problem matching.
‘Go home.’ Charlie had handled men like Lennie Rose before. He knew them well; the way they worked. ‘Did you hear me, Lennie? I said, go home.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I heard you.’
‘Then get out of here. Go on.’
Lennie reluctantly turned and left. Charlie watched him go, stepping out into the corridor, waiting until he heard the roar of Lennie’s bike leaving the compound before he gave the signal – a short, sharp whistle.
Mia emerged from the shadows, two large wooden cupboards affording her the cover she’d needed until Lennie had gone.
‘This still going on?’ Charlie asked, sitting on the edge of the oversized desk that dominated the whole room, his eyes fixed on Mia as she moved closer.
‘What can I do, Charlie? I’ve fought back, tried to understand what’s happening, tried to help him… He wasn’t always this way, and you know that. But after his brother was killed…’
‘You’re making excuses for him?’
‘That’s what it sounds like to me. Dale’s death was completely unrelated to this club. He wasn’t a member of the Lone Riders, didn’t play any part here. I don’t think he even set one foot inside this clubhouse. His death was a mindless, tragic accident that nobody could have predicted. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Lennie’s anger at what happened was totally understandable, given the circumstances. But to keep hold of that anger for as long as he has; to continue to take it out on the people close to him…’
‘I can’t walk away, though. Can I? Because, if I do, if I leave him, he’ll find me.’
‘He doesn’t deserve you.’
‘But he’s got me. Whether I like it or not. And he’s still here… For Christ’s sake, Charlie, you made him your V.P.!’
‘I’m keeping him close, Mia, that’s all. Trying to make sure he channels all of that anger he still has inside of him in the right way.’
‘There’s a right way? You really think that? Charlie, this has gone beyond him grieving now. It’s been years since Dale’s death, and nobody expects Lennie to forget his brother, least of all me. But he’s turned into someone I don’t recognize any more. And I loved him once, I really did. I loved him, you know that. But what’s happening now – it has to stop.’
Mia was right, Charlie knew that. It had to stop because, if it didn’t, who knew the danger Mia could really be in? But he also knew he should have done something a lot sooner. He’d sat back and let too much happen for far too long. ‘What do you want me to do, Mia?’
‘Get rid of him! He’s dangerous. If he can do what he’s done to me, what the hell is he capable of with others? We can’t help him, Charlie. We’ve tried, and it isn’t working. And I can’t take it any more. I can’t.’
Charlie folded his arms, bowing his head.
Mia narrowed her eyes as she looked at him. ‘You know exactly what he’s capable of, don’t you? And you also know that’s something you can use to this club’s advantage.’
Charlie looked up, his arms still folded, his expression calm. Stoic, even. But the guilt that continued to eat away at him – that was never going to go away. ‘I can’t just banish him, sweetheart.’
Mia couldn’t stop the slightly hysterical laugh from escaping. ‘Under what kind of biker code are we operating now, huh? You know, this club, this chapter, especially, was supposed to be one of the safest now. One of the most settled, most organized out of all of them. There’s no threat here, not any more. Not like there used to be. None of that underlying tension others have experienced. You have the dream chapter, Charlie. And after everything it’s been through in the past…’ Mia stopped talking, remembering just what this club had been responsible for, in the past; how it had affected her. It had caused the deaths of her parents. Caught in the crossfire of a bitter feud between the Lone Riders Newcastle chapter and a rival MC from
London, they’d both been killed outright, dead at the scene. She’d been just days old. But as much as the club had been responsible for the loss of her parents, it had also been responsible for making sure she was looked after. And she’d been lucky in that respect, adopted by another club member and his old lady. Two wonderful people who’d turned out to be the best mum and dad Mia could have asked for, and she’d loved them, so much. They were the only parents she’d ever known, her birth parents having been taken from her before she’d even had a chance to know who they were. But now her adoptive mum and dad were dead, too. Both of them tragically killed within months of each other by something the club couldn’t control – cancer. And with no siblings, no aunts or uncles to fall back on, the only family Mia had now was the club. It had been her safety for so long, but meeting Lennie Rose had changed that. Marrying him had been the mistake that made sure that safety had lessened with each day that passed, and she’d just sat back and let it happen. She’d been weak. And now the last remnants of anything resembling a family were slowly slipping from her grasp.
‘I can’t just banish him, Mia,’ Charlie repeated, his voice as calm as his expression.
‘But you were quite happy to see your own daughter banished from
Paradise, weren’t you? Quite happy to see her leave somewhere she was happy, leave behind people she loved.’
Paradise for her own safety. And that’s why I’m sending you over there for yours.’
Mia frowned. ‘You’re banishing me?’
‘It’s not like that,’ Charlie sighed, pushing a hand through his hair again as he stood up, walking over to the filing cabinet in the corner of the room. ‘But you can’t stay here, Mia. And believe me, sweetheart, I really don’t want to send you away, but you have very little choice now. Our options are limited.’ He opened the top drawer, flicking through the papers stacked in there until he found the small manilla envelope he was looking for. ‘Lennie won’t let you go, that’s obvious. The state of mind he’s in now, he isn’t going to just let you walk away.’
Mia leaned back against the table, her head down, an almost defeated tone to her voice. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong, Charlie. I mean, it wasn’t like I even…’ She stopped talking again, closing her eyes for a second or two, aware of Charlie back beside her now.
‘Like you even what, Mia?’ Charlie asked, placing a hand on her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. ‘You didn’t even fuck around behind his back? Like Lexi did with Jesse?’
Mia looked up, her expression almost apologetic. ‘Charlie, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.’
‘You didn’t say anything, sweetheart. I did.’
‘It’s what I meant.’ She threw her head back, letting out a long, frustrated sigh that seemed to come from deep within her. ‘How the hell did I let this happen? All I did was try to protect myself…’
Charlie looked at her, this beautiful young woman with the tortured heart and a life he knew he had a duty to protect. She’d been a part of this club since the day she was born. He was responsible for making sure she stayed safe. And he’d failed to do that.
‘You weren’t to know, Mia. That Lennie would turn into the man he’s become. None of us could have known.’
‘So I run and hide, is that it? I mean, how do I know he won’t find me, in
Paradise? How do I know someone won’t tell him I’m there, or that he won’t just keep digging until he finds out where I am? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding, Charlie.’
‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t find you.’
‘And how are you gonna do that, huh? You know what he’s capable of, how he can manipulate people…’ Because he’d manipulated her, hadn’t he? To the point where she didn’t know who she was sometimes. He’d suck the life out of her, drain her of any human emotion until she was nothing but an empty shell. And then the fear would return, and the anger. And the sheer, terrifying knowledge that she was powerless to do anything about it. Because if she tried, he’d kill her. He’d threatened as much, and she believed every stomach-turning word.
‘It’s the safest place for you to be right now,’ Charlie said, his voice quiet, almost soothing. ‘Coby and Lexi, they’ll look after you.’
‘I don’t need looking after, Charlie.’
‘I know. I know you don’t.’ He sighed, turning to face her, his expression still stoic as he took in her bruised cheek, the red marks on her neck. And just seeing those caused that guilt to flood through him again.
‘He doesn’t even care that the whole world can see what he’s done.’ Mia’s voice was steady. Monotone. Because, in all honesty, she felt nothing now. She was done here.
‘This should tide you over, for a little while.’ Charlie handed her the envelope. ‘Just until you find your feet. I know it can be difficult, starting again in a strange place. You’ll need time to settle in. But Lexi, she… Well, you should talk to her.’
Mia took the envelope, shoving it straight into her pocket. ‘When do I leave?’