THE SECOND BOOK IN THE PLAIN JANE SERIES…
BEATEN, BUT NOT BROKEN
When Sabrina Wilkins’ violent ex is sent to solitary, she’s left to face the Black Dragons MC alone. They want back what he stole, plus interest. Too poor to run, the only choice she has is to hide in plain sight with her infant daughter and pray the enemy of her enemy will be her friend.
Liam never intended to follow in his father’s—President of the Mayhem MC—footsteps, until trouble comes looking for the dark-eyed beauty living in his rental property. Now to protect her and her daughter, the decorated war hero may have to sacrifice pride over honor and rejoin the Mayhem MC.
Caught between rival MCs, Liam and Sabrina must navigate their growing attraction on treacherous roads. She may trust Liam with her body, but can she trust him with her heart? Her life? And the life of her daughter? It’s too late to hide. The Black Dragons are on her doorstep. They’ll do anything to get what they want, even hurt an innocent child.
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Concentrating on the list of mistakes she dare not repeat, Sabrina missed the gaping pothole in the middle of the road. The fifteen-year-old Toyota with its shoddy shocks dipped with a hard thud, shuddered, and lurched out of the asphalt landmine. Everything in the passenger seat—purse, baby and travel bag, laptop, backpack—all went flying to the floor.
“Please, please, please don’t wake up,” she muttered, even as Vivi, let loose a whine from the backseat. So much for pleading. Driving always worked getting her to sleep, driving without the potholes, that is. And a car with decent shocks, brakes, muffler, shit everything.
What Sabrina’s wallet could afford and what she was accustomed to no longer coincided. That’s what happens when the man funding your life gets a prison sentence. The money that bought her designer clothes, a Mercedes and a four-thousand-square foot house was never hers. And that money came with a steep price.
The house, the car, the jewelry, all were hocked to keep Vincent out of jail. A useless effort since the state prison in Atlanta was now his new home.
Another whine from the backseat, this one louder than the last. Sabrina risked a glance at her precious cargo nestled in her baby carrier and met clear blue eyes and a gummy smile. “Just a few more miles and we’ll be home. Our new home. So, don’t cry, okay?”
At ten months old, Vivi was a happy baby, usually, especially after her bout of colic ended after her first three months. However, ignore her at your own peril.
“Be good for Mama, just a bit more,” she pleaded, though knew Vivi’s cooperation would last as long as her butt was dry, and her belly wasn’t empty. After four hours in the car, both were unlikely.
A whimper confirmed it. Any second now, a full meltdown would happen, and once Vivi started, she’d go for hours.
Sabrina sighed, exited the state road, and pulled into the first gas station. By the time she’d parked, Vivi’s cries had reached ten decibels. She hustled to the back and freed her squirming offspring from the carrier.
“I know, Vivi. I’m hungry, too.” Vivi calmed enough for a quick diaper change but fussed when Sabrina didn’t whip out her boob fast enough. “All right. All right.”
Vivi saw lunch and smacked her lips and kicked her legs. Sabrina winced when her daughter clamped on and began feeding. That first bite always hurt, but the steady suction of Vivi’s little mouth had a soothing effect. Sabrina leaned back into the hard cushions and relaxed because this would probably be the last chance she had today.
She wanted to be at the house by 9:00 a.m. The clock on the dashboard just changed to noon. Hours behind schedule, she should be happy she was upright and functioning. Plus, she’d never been on time a single day in her life. Why start now.
Two weeks overdue, Vivi took after her mama. “Don’t you, baby?” She ruffled Vivi’s brown, silky locks, earning a milky grin. Took after her mama but looked like her father—the son of a bitch. She loved her daughter but hated the resemblance. Be kind, God, and let her grow out of it.
The puckered flesh on her back itched and she scratched the skin, which made it worse since she couldn’t reach behind for a good scratch. Sighing, she rubbed her back against the rough material of the seat. The fraction of relief she received would have to be okay.
A grin broke across her face. Actually, everything was okay, because today was the start of their new lives. A life without abuse, and terror. Without men in leather cuts on motorcycles showing up at all hours of the night whenever they wanted and staying ’til morning. A life without sex on demand, whether she wanted it or not. A life where no meant no, and she had a choice. A life where he wouldn’t knock her up on purpose because it was time she had a kid, or another kid, then another.
Her nipple popped out of Vivi’s rosebud mouth and she didn’t go chasing after it. “All done?” A shift and a jiggle got her boob back in her bra. A couple of pats on Vivi’s back produced an epic burp. “Good job, baby.” Back in the carrier she went. Those clear blue eyes stared at Sabrina ready for the coming pep talk.
“You’re dry and full. Don’t you want to sleep in your own bed tonight? In your own home?” Vivi gurgled something only another baby would understand.
“I’m gonna take that as a ‘Yes, Mama,’ and get back on the road.” She buckled Vivi in, then took her place behind the wheel.
She merged onto the state road, her Toyota zooming along at the fifty-five mile per hour the speed limit, while she ate everyone else’s exhaust. The spotty air-conditioning and eighty-five-degree weather left her no choice but to crack the windows for ventilation, even if the car smelled like the inside of a tailpipe. “So, here’s the plan, Vivi. I already have the keys to our new house so no need to go to the real estate office.” It was only a rental, but it was hers. The first thing she’d ever had in her name. It felt good to scribble Sabrina Wilkins beneath her printed name. “We go to our place, get all your stuff set up in your room, then we’ll get some groceries.”
“Da-da.” Came from the backseat.
“Mama, not Dada.” Damn it. It wasn’t fair Dada was the first words a baby learned. “I got your playpen in the back and all your toys. Mama’s gonna get you settled and…” Wing everything else because right now, adrenaline and caffeine were the only things keeping her going. “Probably pass out because someone wouldn’t go to sleep last night.”
A giggle from the backseat got Vivi added to the list. Adrenaline, caffeine, and Vivi. Definitely, Vivi. Her only reason for living.
“I got the lights turned on. We can’t afford cable or internet, thank God for YouTube. I think that’s still free on my phone. Yay!” Her cheer earned a giggle. “I Googled the area, and the supermarket is only five blocks away. We’ll go as soon as we get set up.” The food stamps had to stretch for three more weeks. She’d make it. There wasn’t another choice. “Your main diet is milk. Mine ain’t.”
His wasn’t milk either. Her hands tightened on the wheel. “Keep calling for that POS and see how far that’ll get you.”
Stop it. It wasn’t all bad, not in the beginning. And in the end, be glad you left on your own two feet and not in a body bag. And you left with Vivi. “Sorry, baby. I promise to do better.” Venting to a nine-month-old, that’s what she was reduced to. It could always be worse. So much worse.
Her relationship with Vincent didn’t start out that way. He came into her life five years ago with lame promises and lots of cash. At nineteen, her judgment sucked. Plus, she had the depth of a thimble. A few lame promises, a few meals in restaurants with linen napkins and a maître d’, a few nights in Vegas at high-end hotels and the craps table, a few weekends in Miami on a sailboat and stretched out on South Beach, and anything Vincent wanted, she did, happily. Including moving in with him and dropping out of college. Why get an education when he promised to take care of her?
Idiot. Woulda had my degree by now. Life would be totally different.
Everything would be different if I hadn’t — A car horn snapped her out of the trip down memory lane, allowing herself to refocus on what was important, her future free of Vincent Geraldie, and Vivi. Especially Vivi.
For so long she thought death would be the only way to be free of Tip of the Spear, the money launderer treasurer and wannabee enforcer for the Black Dragons MC. Vincent, the former good boy from the right side of the tracks fell in with the club after a stint in juvie. That tough love lesson definitely backfired on his upper middle-class parents. They wanted him on Wall Street and he just wanted to be on the streets. Then the arrests began, one after another, and the indictments. She thought she was free, didn’t think to run because it was over… until he got out on bail.
Her back itched again. This time she ignored it and glanced in the rearview mirror at the only thing that mattered. “It’s me and you kid. I’m your ride or die, and you’re my reason not to die.”
Sabrina flipped on the radio to something with a beat. Probably not child appropriate, but Vivi liked the beat and anything that kept her occupied on a road trip was child appropriate.
Beyoncé came on singing “Who runs the World?” and Sabrina screamed, “Girls,” while Vivi squealed in agreement. And that’s how it went for the next thirty minutes, until she made a left into the cul-de-sac and pulled into her new home, two houses from the end.
“We’re here. Contain your excitement.”
Stretching the kinks out of her back and shoulders, she savored the warm air flavored with the scent of freshly cut grass and she took a long look at the place. It wasn’t a palace. Ranch-style with a tiny covered porch, the siding was white and seemed freshly painted with black trim around the shutters. The other houses were fancier, split levels, two-car garages, a few with newer model cars parked in their driveways, but not so much fancier that her house stuck out like a sore thumb.
Except for the house directly across the street. Set back from the street, it was a two story with a large front yard and bay windows, and a two-car garage. Instead of siding, it was a combination of red brick and dark stonework, which was a bit out of place in the working-class neighborhood, but who was she to judge. Blending in was the goal, and she aimed to achieve it.
She grabbed the key out of her purse and Vivi from her carrier. Happy to be free from the carrier, Vivi squirmed to be set down. She wanted to crawl and touch and taste. There’d be time enough for her to explore, just not now. There was too much to do. Sabrina propped Vivi on her hip and headed for the front door.
The real estate agent said the house would be cleaned for their arrival. Clean must’ve been a relative term when a thick layer of dust covered the floors and the drape-covered furniture. When was the last time someone lived here?
Vivi sneezed, drooled, sneezed again, and finished with a whine. She didn’t like the stale, stifling air, and neither did Sabrina. “Let’s get some windows open.” She tossed her purse onto the Formica kitchen counter and crossed to the sliding door at the back of the house. The backyard was just a stained concrete slab with a postage stamp of grass surrounding it. Not much to mow, thankfully.
“Enough room for you to play? Yeah, I think it’ll do.”
The master bedroom had the usual bath and shower combo en suite, walk-in closet, and a nice king-size bed. It was a third of the size of the master bedroom she’d left behind. The other two bedrooms were smaller with bare twin-size beds. One of the beds would have to go into the attic to make room for Vivi’s crib when she could afford to buy one. “Mama’s gonna make your room pretty. I promise.” It wouldn’t be as fancy as her last room, but it would be the nicest room in their new home for at least three months, maybe longer if things worked out.
“Let’s go get your playpen and get you settled.” She stepped out of the house, lighter than she’d been in five years. The anchor around her neck resided in the U.S. Penitentiary in Peach State.
A breeze kicked, up lifting the hair off her sweaty nape. The sun warmed her bare shoulders and arms. A hint of something flavored the air, barbecue if she were to place a bet, and didn’t that make her happy. Yeah, it did. If freedom had a taste, this was it. And it felt good.
Great way to ruin a moment. “You need to learn a few more words.” An adorable drooling grin was Vivi’s response. “Playpen jail for you, kiddo, while Mama cleans our new home.” With any luck she’d get most of it done before sunset arrived.
She had the trunk open and the playpen in her hand when the rumble of an engine caught her off guard. She froze. The sound, dear God, she’d hear that sound for the rest of her life in her nightmares, because it meant he’d come home from whatever illegal shit he was up to.
He’s in prison. I’m free. It’s not him.
Though certainty flooded her, that didn’t stop her knees from knocking. Vincent promised he’d get the club to find her, swore there wasn’t a place she could hide. Jailed or free, she’d never be rid of him. To his face, separated by an inch of Plexiglas and on a phone, she called him a liar. Why would the club care about her, a nobody with a kid?
Why indeed? Because of Vincent, they thought she knew all about their illegal dealing and where Vincent had hidden a stash of money. The club’s money. She had an idea where the money could be, but that was none of her business. If they found her, she’d tell them what she knew, otherwise laying low and getting her life together was her priority.
None of that would happen because they’d found her.
A Harley came into view as she knew it would. Curved handlebars, headlight in the center, the pipes making that distinctive rumble only a Harley made. The bike coasted toward the cul-de-sac.
No helmet to block the dark hair whipping back from a male face. He handled the bike with a natural ease and turned into the house across the street from her. Rolling to a stop next to a blue Ram 1500, he cut the engine. Sabrina didn’t wait to greet her new neighbor, because she was already running back to the house and locking herself inside. Back pressed to the warm wood, she slid to a boneless puddle.
No, it wasn’t Vincent tracking her down; however, it was just as bad, possibly worse. The guy riding the Harley, it had been a few years, but she remembered him as a member of the Mayhem MC, rivals to the Black Dragons, and the son of the guy the Dragons wanted dead.