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He did ten years for me. Now he’s free. This is supposed to be happy ever after, so why does it feel like disaster?
Scrap Allenbach is a living legend to the Steel Bones MC. A vigilante hero. Ten years ago, he gave up his freedom for me. I never asked him to. Now he’s back, with some idea about how it’s gonna be. He’s wrong. Things are different now. I’m not the same girl he knew. After what happened, I’ll never be that person again. Not with the baggage I carry and the secrets I keep.
I’ve waited ten years to make Crista Holt mine. I came back expecting to claim the girl I fell in love with, but that girl is gone. I hardly recognize the woman in front of me now. She thinks I’ll give up, walk away, but I’m not that kind of man. She’s been mine since the moment I laid eyes on her, and I don’t give up what’s mine. All I need is time, and she’ll see how it is.
But when the past rises up and old enemies ride again, we’re out of time, and it might not be ghosts from the past that destroy our future. It might be the secrets between us.
Scrap is a 58,000-word motorcycle club romance. It’s the third book in the Steel Bones Motorcycle Club series, but it takes place at the same time as Nickel’s Story, and it can be read out of order. This novel is intended for adult readers (18+) due to violence, triggers, strong language, and explicit intimate scenes.
WARNING: This novel contains details of a violent crime against a character in her teens.
Standalone. Safe. HEA.
Scrap Allenbach is getting out of jail today.
My stupid body’s gone haywire. I’m sweating down my back, and my face is so hot, I’m probably as red as a baboon’s ass.
Everyone’s staring, which doesn’t help. After all, I’m the reason Scrap’s been upstate for the past ten years.
The Steel Bones clubhouse is crazy, prospects moving furniture to lay out the dance floor, sweetbutts scrubbing down the tables, old ladies banging around in the kitchen. It’s not even ten in the morning, and a third keg’s already been tapped. It’s a huge celebration.
I think I’m gonna puke.
Everyone’s acting like they’re not watching me blow up balloons. Fay-Lee’s been hovering around, all skinny-ass mama hen, as if I’m finally gonna crack and lose my mind. I’m not. I might melt into a puddle of embarrassment right here by the bar, but I’ll keep it together. I always—mostly—do.
And as if all the eyeballs weren’t enough, Harper Ruth is hovering around.
Harper is the Heavy’s sister, and Heavy’s the president. She sees herself as some kind of Wendy to the Steel Bones’ Lost Boys. She’s protective, and I get that, but I wish she’d back off. I’m not going to do whatever it is she thinks I’m going to do. She should know that by now. I serve drinks, keep my head down. I’m not going to ruin Scrap’s homecoming.
Anyway, she’s swinging her lady dick around, making sure I know my place, which is kind of a joke since I’ve pretty much worn a hole in my place so deep, I couldn’t get out if I tried. I hang around in the background, keep the bar stocked, run errands. Try not to ruin any more lives.
“Do you think we need to bring in more pussy?” Harper bares her teeth, her version of a smile, and gauges me with her weird, gray shark eyes.
I keep my head down and press the nozzle on the helium tank. “Sure. Why not?”
I tie off a balloon and hand it to Fay-Lee. This morning, Fay-Lee’s in charge of adding the string, and if I’m not mistaken, my mom’s asked her to keep an eye on me. Girl’s been up my ass all morning.
Harper clicks her fancy pen. “Ten years is long dry spell. Maybe I should call The White Van. Have them close up the place for the night, send all the girls over.”
“Okay, then.” Harper scrawls on her clipboard with a flourish. “I’ll call over now. Unless…” She cocks her head, waiting.
I push the button on the tank of air and a bright, pink balloon swells up bigger than my head, totally ridiculous. Fay-Lee snickers. Shit. I didn’t mean to do that.
Harper keeps going. The woman does not know when to quit. Probably makes her a great lawyer. Definitely makes her an asshole.
“I know a lot of the girls want to give our boy a welcome home he won’t forget. If that’s gonna be a problem, just—”
My stomach tightens, and the old scars twinge. My whole body is radiating heat. It’s a special kind of hell when everyone thinks they know your business, and everyone’s got it all wrong.
“It’s not like that.”
“It isn’t?” Harper’s skeptical.
I look to Fay-Lee for backup, but she shrugs. I guess that’s fair. I don’t talk about Scrap. No one really knows what our deal is.
But the last thing I want to do right now—or ever—is to talk about it with Harper Ruth.
It’s hard enough to wrap my brain around that soon, Scrap Allenbach and I are going to be in the same room together for the first time in ten years.
Right now, as we speak, Heavy, my dad, and a few other brothers are picking him up. They’re taking him to Heavy’s cabin for some downtime before they bring him to the clubhouse for the party. The party’s supposed to be a surprise. My guess is someone’s gonna blow that in the first five minutes.
Scrap’s going to be here in a few hours, and we’re going to see each other, and then—
My stomach flops like a fish on a hook. I fumble the knot I’m trying to tie, and a balloon takes off squealing and farting across the room. Fay-Lee snorts, and a prospect leaps for it, missing and crashing onto a pool table. Brothers howl, all boisterous and day-drunk.
At my feet, my dog Frances harrumphs and rolls over to his other side. Frances is a super-wrinkly mastiff mix who is not now—and has never been—impressed, amused, or interested. He’s the freakin’ best.
I rub my sweaty palms on my jeans and snag another balloon from the pack.
“I know you and him were never really…?” Harper waits, lets the silence drag out. She should know better. I’m Crista Holt. The master of awkward silences. The walking, talking cautionary tale.
You know how many times I walk into a room and it instantly gets quiet? How many times someone says something totally innocuous—about Route 12 or Ernestine’s hernia surgery or something—and everyone goes mute? Walking in my shoes is one long cell phone call and a series of tunnels.
“The last thing I’d want to do is make this harder…”
Oh, Lord, make it stop. Harper can’t really think I’m worried about Scrap Allenbach and a bunch of strippers, can she? What about me says back off my man? I can’t even talk to a man I don’t know. I can hardly talk to anyone.
“Whatever you want to do, Harper.”
“Last one.” I tie off the balloon and hand it to Fay-Lee. “You need anything else?”
Harper raises her perfect eyebrows. I stare back.
“No. I guess I’ve got this handled.”
“All right then.” I nod at Fay-Lee and bail for the kitchen. Frances waits until I’m halfway across the room, and then he lumbers to his paws so dramatically and resentfully he should win an Emmy. I swear he’s rolling his eyes behind my back like this bitch cannot stay put. He’ll perk up when he realizes where I’m headed. The old ladies spoil him rotten.
Harper’s never stepped foot in the kitchen once that I’ve seen, and I need a break. Besides, based on the number of brothers who’ve shown this early, I need to bring more stock up from the back. I filled the shelves last night, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a few boxes of extra liquor tucked under the bar. This is looking like the kind of rager that can go two, maybe three days.
Technically, my dad Pig Iron, the club treasurer, is in charge of the books and the bar. In reality, my mom Deb runs the numbers for both the MC and Steel Bones Construction, and I manage the bar. Dad basically pours drinks for the ladies when he feels like it and keeps his weed in the garnish fridge.
I’m not complaining. It’s a good job for me, the clubhouse being one of the few places I feel comfortable. I grew up here, climbing on the tire playset the brothers put up out in the yard. But now Scrap is coming home. There goes the comfortable.
When the kitchen doors swing shut behind me and Frances, some of the weight lifts from the stares and the fact that—fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck—Scrap Allenbach’s coming home today. It’s hot in here, and loud, and it feels like home. My mom’s at the stove, messin’ around with her girls, Aunt Shirl and Ernestine.
My mom’s like this short, round red onion, tucked between Aunt Shirl’s skinny carrot and Ernestine’s huge, hair-sprayed broccoli head.
“There’s my sweet baby!” Ernestine bends to scratch Frances behind the ears.
“Dogs don’t belong in a kitchen,” my mom mutters, stirring onions in a cast iron skillet.
“They let Pig Iron in here,” Aunt Shirl says and high fives Ernestine who’s returned to her place at the stove. Aunt Shirl sniffs Ernestine’s pot and then rummages in some jars on the counter.
“You put that bay leaf in my sauce, I’ll beat your ass.” Ernestine blocks Aunt Shirl’s with a big wooden spoon.
Aunt Shirl rolls her eyes. “Ain’t nobody wanna touch your nasty sauce.”
“That’s not what Twitch used to say back in the day.” Ernestine smirks. She loves bringing up how she used to bang my Uncle Twitch before he met my Aunt Shirl.
Ma snorts. “Ernestine, you still braggin’ on dick you bagged during the Nixon administration?”
“Now what would Grinder think about that?” Aunt Shirl tastes her own sauce and drops the bay leaf still in her hand back into the jar.
“Now why would I care what that cheatin’, no-good, old-ass motherfucker thinks?” Ernestine put Grinder out a few months back. She does it every few years when he goes too far off the chain.
“That’s not what you were sayin’ when you came by for your binoculars the other day.” I can’t help but razz her. Grinder’s been stayin’ in my spare room for the meanwhile, and it’s sad, seeing a man my grandpa’s age cryin’ after a woman.
“I needed those binoculars.” Ernestine sniffs.
“Bird watching?” Aunt Shirl says bird watching like bullshit.
“Watching that prospect Grinder’s got mowin’ my lawn.” Ernestine shimmies her wide-ass hips, knocking into both Ma and Aunt Shirl ’til they lose their footing. They laugh and push back.
“Washington or Boom?” Ma asks.
“That prospect could mow my lawn any day.” Ma fans herself with a dish towel.
Ma shrugs. “What? I ain’t blind. Or dead.”
I wrap my arms around Ma’s squishy middle and rest my chin on her shoulder. She lifts a spoon to my lips. “Taste. It need more salt?”
“Nah. It’s good.”
“Better than Aunt Shirl’s?”
“I’d never say that.” Aunt Shirl’s thin line of a mouth almost cracks into a smile. Almost.
I love these women. Tough as nails, each one. Aunt Shirl was an emergency room nurse. Back in the day, she did a tour in Vietnam. My Uncle Twitch passed a few years ago, so now she takes care of all the old-timers, making sure they get fed, take their meds. Bikers are hard-living and stubborn as hell, so it’s not an easy task.
Ernestine raised four kids, lost one to the crack epidemic, and then she raised three grandkids as her own, and lost another one to opiods a year or two back. So much loss, but whenever they get together, they’re just like they are now. Hootin’ and hollerin’. Cursin’ a blue streak, messin’ with each other and carrying on.
Not like me.
I don’t feel like a survivor; I feel like a leftover. The pieces that keep going through inertia or habit, what’s dragged along by other, stronger people.
Like Scrap Allenbach who’s comin’ home after doing ten years for me. Dad said it himself, so many times during those first months, those first few years. Since Scrap did what he did, I don’t have to live afraid. I can move on. Make something of myself. Have a life.
Well, the joke’s on him.
I’m afraid every minute of every day.
I’m twenty-six years old, and I live above my parent’s garage. I tend bar at my dad’s club, I run errands to the club’s businesses, not the construction sites but the Autowerks or The White Van. I go to doctor’s appointments. I watch my sister Annie’s kids, and I read. That’s it. Not an exaggeration. That’s the perimeter of my life. Books, the club, the doctor’s, home. And sometimes, when the past won’t shut up, the parking lot of Finnegan’s Ice Cream Parlor.
I’ve pulled it up on a map on the internet. The perimeter of my life makes a hexagon.
Mom buys me groceries when she gets hers from the bulk store near Pyle. I get my books and jeans and hoodies online. In the past ten years, I’ve never been on a date or a vacation or swimming or shopping or dancing at Sawdust on the Floor.
The last time I saw a movie, I couldn’t get into rated-R. I’ve never been to a girlfriend’s house, and if I didn’t have the clubhouse, I wouldn’t have friends.
It sounds like I’d have a lot of time on my hands, but it is so time consuming to walk that perimeter, be vigilant, make sure everything is safe and under control.
Now Scrap’s coming home.
The good ol’ trembles start, and under my chest, Ma stiffens. She wraps her arms around mine and rocks slowly, foot to foot. “How ya doin’ baby?”
Aunt Shirl and Ernestine’s faces go grim, and they shift nearer, offering comfort, closeness. I let the warmth seep in, let their presence take the weight yet again.
“No one would blame you if you went home.” Ma cranes her neck to meet my eyes.
I roll my eyes. “Everyone would blame me.”
“You don’t owe them anything.”
“I owe Scrap.” It wasn’t my choice, but all the same. I owe him. “Don’t I?”
There’s a long moment of silence over the stove while around us in the huge kitchen, the banging and chatter goes on.
“It was his decision.” Aunt Shirl digs into her pot, swirling the thick, red sauce like she means business. “No one asked him to do it.”
“Especially not in public like that.” Mom sucks the inside of her cheeks. She’s never made any bones about the fact she thinks what Scrap did was stupid. It’s not a popular opinion around here.
“He was so young.” Ernestine sounds like the weary grandma. Scrap’s not her blood, but she considers all the boys hers, especially those like Scrap who were born into the club.
This is more than people usually say around me. Most of the time, we all sweep what happened out the door when it inevitably shows up. Ignore it like cobwebs up in high corners.
I get a morbid curiosity sometimes, a kind of itchy feeling where I want to scratch at the past, see what’s underneath, but talking about it hurts Mom more than me, so I don’t ask her. I know I should just be grateful.
I have my dad because of Scrap Allenbach. Because Scrap did what he did, my dad didn’t have to. I can never repay him, and that’s not even a statement of how big the debt is that I owe him. I can’t repay him cause I wouldn’t even know how.
And besides, he wants nothing from me.
Back when I was first recovering, when the insomnia was so bad I was hallucinating, Mom thought it’d help me to see Scrap. Dad wanted me nowhere near SCI Wayne, but Mom made him take me to visit. She had this idea that seeing him would help somehow convince my lizard brain that I was safe and let me sleep.
Dad drove me the three hours upstate, and I sat behind a thick pane of glass while guards brought in a man I hardly recognized.
Scrap’s left eye was swollen shut, his lip was split, and he had a cut on his right temple as if someone started carving the letter L on a slant. I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt. My throat had closed, my breathing strangled to a wheeze. I had a panic attack in a staticky, plastic chair while Scrap Allenbach told me he didn’t want me there, to never come back.
“Please. I’m so sorry,” I’d blubbered.
“Not as sorry as I am.” He’d stared over my shoulder, sharp jaw clenched so tight I could see each cord in his neck, his hands fisted in his lap. If I hadn’t already been so low, the weight of his words would have crushed me to pieces.
Of course, I never went back. Never asked about him again. Some people in the club think I’m a cold bitch because of it, and I let them. Better than telling them their hero wishes he’d never seen my face.
Oh, shit. I drifted off. All three ladies have turned away from the stove, worrying at me with their sad eyes and their sad smiles.
My skin heats with irritation. Freaking them out is the last thing I want to do.
I pull it together like I always do, reassure them that what’s broken down in front of their eyes is just fine after all.
I sheepishly shake my head, and press my forehead to Mom’s. Then I smack a kiss on Aunt Shirl’s cheek and grab the spoon from Ernestine’s hand.
“Don’t mind me. I’m just spacing out. Now let me try this sauce.” I take a taste of Aunt Shirl’s and screw up my face. “Too much bay leaf.”
Ernestine hoots, and the ladies erupt in shouts and laughter, happy to be distracted, to keep going on as if this is a happy day.
There’s nothing to see here. I’m not a ghost haunting this place. We’re not celebrating the waste of ten years of a man’s life.
It’s all fine.
Scrap Allenbach is coming home.
When I can get away, Frances and I go down to storage for a few more bottles to stash under the bar, and as soon as I’m away from other people—just like I knew it would—the compulsion hits.
I have to check and make sure everything’s okay.
If I were home, I’d check the door. The windows. The closets.
If I were in my car, I’d check the rearview. The Beretta Nano in the glovebox. Pop it open, take a quick glance, pop it shut. Everything’s okay.
I’m at the clubhouse, though, surrounded by family, as safe as I can ever be. The itch crawls up my spine and over my skin. I have to check. The itch isn’t exactly reasonable.
I bend, touch the knife in my ankle holster. Slide it out, tuck it back in.
It helps, but not much. Not enough.
Shit. There’s only one way I’ve figured out to deal with the urge when it’s being stupid and won’t go away.
I don’t want to. A knot coils in my stomach as my hand reaches into my pocket for my phone. Looking at the photo fucks with my head almost as much as the itch.
I shouldn’t need to look. What good can it really do? I can’t stop the itch, though. Not on my own. Not with lazy-8 breathing or visualization or slamming shots. And if I leave it to fester, it’ll become a panic attack. Put me on the floor and pity on everyone’s face.
My fingers shake while I swipe the unlock code, Z for Zorro. I tap my photos. Tap again on a folder with one picture in it, and his face appears, so familiar now that I have to force my eyes to focus on the features, the eyes, the chin. Instantly, the itch is doused by a jolt of adrenaline, a full body slam that sends me sinking to my butt along the wall.
He’s in profile. An open hood in the background. His mouth is open, mid-sentence. His face is tan. Healthy. You can only see one, blue eye, and the faint outline of the tattoo on his neck.
It’s an older picture. He looks different now. Life’s been hard.
I should delete it. It does nothing but drag me back. If I thought I’d ever move forward, maybe I would. But I’m stuck as sure as Scrap Allenbach has been for the past ten years, a prisoner of a different kind. He’s coming home today, and I never left. I don’t know why I spent the morning blowing up balloons.
I shove my phone back in my pocket and grab a box to carry the booze in. Frances turns three times in a circle and flops down, blocking the door. He’s snoring before I’ve pulled a single bottle off the shelf.
He’s gonna be a grumpy pup in five minutes when I have to wake him up to leave.
This is a party, after all. I got shit I need to do.
The bike’s the only thing that feels right.
Shoes with hard soles feel weird. Jeans feel weird. Pickin’ shit off a menu feels weird. Do I want the fries or the onion rings? And it’s like you gotta know how to work the computer from Minority Report to get your drink. There ain’t six flavors of pop no more; there’s a shit ton. Do I want regular or diet? What kind of fake sugar? With vanilla or cherry or lime? Fuck. I give up, man.
I tap the button that says water and sit back down with my brothers. It’s weird sittin’ down to eat in a chair with a back. Hell, it’s weird eatin’ without havin’ to watch your back.
I just wanna see Crista.
The thought lets air flow into my lungs. I bring her to mind, the same picture I always do, her waitin’ for me on the stairs in front of Petty’s Mill High. Long hair shinin’, mostly brown but reddish when it catches the light, the hem of her sundress flippin’ in the breeze, clarinet case clutched in two hands. Her shy smile quirkin’ up the corners of her sweet mouth. I know she’s older now. With what she been through…she ain’t gonna be the same. I know this.
She’s good, though. Heavy, Pig Iron, Charge. They kept me updated. Not much. No pics. She don’t like havin’ her picture taken. Besides, I couldn’t handle it, gettin’ too clear a picture of her outside when I was locked in, so I didn’t ask, and they didn’t volunteer. But she’s done well. Moved out, workin’. Happy.
I bet her tits are bigger now. She was kind of skinny back then, with these little apple-sized titties, but goin’ by Deb and Annie, I bet she grew some. Don’t matter. She’s healthy. Ain’t needed surgery in a long time, now. She’s good.
Now, me, I’m antsy as hell. Wired. I been that way since the parole hearing. Like my skin’s stretched too tight over my muscles. Ain’t been sleepin’ much. Or eatin’. I kept runnin’ every movie through my mind where a cop is on his last day of the job, and he gets shot.
All this week, I been waitin’ for a shank in the back or for them to toss my cell and find a bag of cocaine or something. Bang of the gavel. Ten more years.
Nothing happened though ’cept some paperwork and some bullshit wait for an asshole to get back from his coffee break to sign some shit.
I thought the shakes would go when I cleared the place, but not even that long ride down here could soothe me. My knee’s jiggling, and Creech, who’s pulled up to the table beside me, keeps shootin’ me irritated looks. He looks the same as he did before. The tattoos on his head are faded, but other than that, he’s the same asshole.
“What?” I finally ask.
“You got to piss?”
“You got even freakier since I went in, eh?”
The brothers laugh, and fuck, it hits me in the chest. I’m back. Home. The agitation eases a little more, turning more into anticipation.
“We headin’ to the clubhouse after this?” I wasn’t hungry, but Heavy’s playin’ road captain today, and the burger joint was his idea.
I don’t want to say straight out can’t we go see Crista? Her dad’s sittin’ right there, and even though we understand each other, I ain’t gonna disrespect him. That’s what I want, though. Her sweet, shy smile. Her slight weight in my lap like that charmed day before the world went to hell.
Heavy strokes his long-ass beard. When I went in, it had some length, but now it’s like the love child of ZZ Top and fuckin’ Gandalf. Crazy. “Thought we’d go out to my cabin first. Relax. Open a bottle of Macallan.”
I set my cup back on my tray. Take a pause. Try to find words that don’t sound ungrateful.
Unless Crista Holt’s at his house, naked with that bottle of whiskey, I ain’t gonna relax. She needs to be in my arms. Under me. Fillin’ my hands. But it ain’t like I can say that. Not with her dad watchin’ me like he’s my own proud papa, ketchup dribblin’ down his gray heard. Still, these fuckers are my brothers. How do they not know that I need to be balls deep in my girl?
“I really want to see everyone. Crista.” They exchange looks. What the fuck? This can’t be a surprise; they must know I want to see her.
“The women are puttin’ together a surprise party for you, man.” Creech mumbles through the burger he’s chewin’. “You gonna ruin the surprise.”
Nickel punches him in the arm at the same time Forty reaches across the table and slaps him across the back of the head. Funny how they move. Nickel like a street fighter, and Forty like the soldier he used to be.
“Dumbass,” Pig Iron grunts.
“Well. Surprise is ruined. Might as well head to the clubhouse.” I eye Heavy. He’s the boss, but end of the day, I ain’t got a warden no more. I’m gonna do what I want. And I want to see Crista.
She works the bar at the clubhouse now. I would’ve thought she’d have some fancy office job with how smart she is and how good she was at school. Maybe even gone to college like Harper and Heavy. But I guess all them surgeries at the beginning got in the way of that. She’s happy, though, so who cares, right?
Heavy shakes his head slow. “The women’ll be mighty pissed if we ruin all their hard work. Let’s go to my place. You can get a shower. Pick your own clothes.”
“Yeah, you smell like inmate, man. You gotta wash that off.” Creech waves at me with a fry.
“What’s inmate smell like?” I take a sniff of my shirt. Don’t smell nothin’.
“Public bathroom soap and ball sweat.” Charge flashes his pretty-boy smile. He should know. He done enough time himself.
“Oh, so like your mom?” I grin back.
The table cracks up. A little more weight lifts. All of a sudden, I want to get back on the road. Not only to get closer to Crista, but because I need that wind in my face again.
“So my place?” Heavy asks.
The need to see Crista wars with the desire to ride off these past years, air out any darkness that still’s clinging to me. She’s so sweet, so innocent. She don’t need to be anywhere near the filth I been wallowin’ in these past years. I nod, push back my tray.
We’re back in the saddle in no time, and as if he’s in my head, Heavy takes us by way of the scenic route, picking up the Luckahannock north of Pyle and riding along the river. It’s a perfect early spring day. The wind has a bite, and the sun seems far off overhead. The river runs fast and wild, racing at our side.
I ain’t never regretted what I done, but damn, I have missed the world.
Sunshine. Open road. Crista Holt.
All the proof of God a man could ever need.
As I ride, I throw the doors in my soul open, set all the wanting in me free, let my heart finally feel what it’s been dyin’ for. In a few hours, Crista will finally be in my arms. I’ll wrap that long, silky hair in my fist, toss whatever pretty little dress she’s got on up, and drink her shy smiles in while I stroke inside her sweet pussy. Show her I ain’t never goin’ anywhere ever again.
I ain’t stupid. I know it ain’t really gonna go down like that. It’s been a long time, and when I went away, she was only sixteen, and I’d kept some distance out of respect for her age and for Pig Iron. We shared a few rides and a stolen kiss at a picnic.
I know she ain’t gonna run to me, leap into my arms.
But the dream? Under this blue sky, ridin’ beside my brothers…it don’t seem so impossible. Not when God can make a day like this.