Echoes of silence unquie.., p.32
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.32

           Anne Malcom
 

  “Lexie,” a raspy voice called, making me stop.

  I turned with a smile on my face for the owner of the voice. Steg’s wrinkled but attractive, albeit scary face was focused on me.

  “Hey, Steg,” I greeted warmly. What Kill had said about him not being nice just simply wasn’t true. I felt a connection with the older, ex-president of the Sons of Templar MC. I guessed he could be scary to anyone who threatened his family, but to me, he was always a bristly kind of soft. He didn’t treat me with kid gloves; I liked that. Kill and I had been over there for dinner a few times in the past few weeks and a lot while Mom was still in hospital. Their big ranch out in the middle of nowhere was like a fortress and a second home. I liked how they treated Kill, with the same kind of bristly softness they treated me. Granted, Steg was a lot bristlier, but it was apparent he cared for Kill. He deserved that, people who loved him.

  “You got a second, sweetheart?” Steg asked, his face strangely blank.

  I furrowed my brows slightly at the look but nodded. “Sure,” I said, stepping toward him. “I was only going to hang out with Kill while he worked anyway.”

  Steg gave me a half grin. “Well, let’s give the kid a few more minutes of concentration,” he teased. He nodded toward the door marked “Church.” I bugged my eyes out slightly at this invitation but followed him into the room. I immediately knew something was wrong. This room didn’t hold happy memories for me. The last time I was in here was when Mom was kidnapped, when I didn’t know if I’d see her again. I wasn’t supposed to be in here.

  “Sit down, sweetheart,” Steg invited, nodding to a chair.

  I swallowed and did as he bid. He sat on the one beside me, moving it slightly so he faced me.

  His silvery gray eyes regarded me for a long moment before he spoke.

  “Well aware that Bull, your mom, and Kill aren’t gonna be the ones to tell you this. They’re hell-bent on protecting you from everything the world throws at you. Know for a fact Kill would damn near shoot me for having this conversation, despite the fact I’m the man who brought him up.” He paused. “That’s a testament to how much you mean to him, but the kid means something to me, to the club. The club’s in his blood and always will be. Looks like club may be in his blood, but you’re under his skin in a way it looks like you’re gonna stay there. He’s gonna patch in, which means you’re gonna be an old lady. We protect old ladies. Die for them if need be. But you ain’t gonna make it in this world without knowing what it is. So I’m gonna tell you. I’m doin’ this ‘cause I like you, sweetheart. ‘Cause I know you’re strong enough to handle it,” he said, his voice rough and no-nonsense.

  I sucked in a breath at all of this. It was a lot to take in unprepared, and Steg wasn’t giving me much time to let it process. He didn’t seem to give me any time before he started talking again.

  “Your mom hasn’t told you much about your dad, about how he was connected to the murder of your grandparents?” he asked, though it wasn’t exactly structured as a question.

  My heart sank and I shook my head slowly, tasting bile. Mom barely spoke about Steve and Ava’s death since it happened. She talked about them all the time. She didn’t let the memory of them dim, didn’t let sorrow bury their spirits. They were always with us. But this, the darkest black of reality didn’t come into our lives. I tried not to think of it, of the ugliness. Tried not to wonder about the faceless person walking this earth, breathing free after doing this. I tried to swallow the fury I felt when I thought of this. I was successful most of the time. There was enough light in my life to chase away those dark thoughts, but sometimes in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t escape them, when the light wasn’t there to chase them away, those thoughts came back.

  Steg nodded briskly. “Didn’t think so. Man was a piece of shit. Lowest of the low.” He paused. “Know this ‘cause the way this club used to run, it put me right down there with those people. The low people. Your dad, he was further. So low that when he was Kill’s age, he didn’t turn into the man your man is. He was evil. A coward. Even then. He was involved in shit that made him powerful. And powerful men with evil blood are fuckin’ dangerous, which is why your mom left. She knew he’d kill you, both of you otherwise. Strong woman your mom,” he said with respect, with pride. “Strong woman brought up a strong daughter,” he added, laying his large hand over mine.

  I looked down at it with detachment, still digesting his words. He wasn’t finished.

  “Your father didn’t feel love, but he did have a sick infatuation with your mom. Sick enough he spent almost sixteen years lookin’ for her. Those sixteen years he became more powerful, more evil, his soul rotted and twisted,” Steg spat, his voice moving toward fury. He squeezed my hand. “It was his rotten and twisted soul that took Ava and Steve from you,” he said the words quickly, like ripping a Band-Aid off quickly. I guessed he hoped the initial sting would subside as quickly as he said the words.

  If only. Agony settled into my soul at these words. Into my blood. The blood that was half his. My father. My father was the one who killed my family.

  “Stay with me, sweetheart. We’re not done yet,” Steg said softly.

  I blinked up at him. “Not done?” I choked out. “What else is there?’

  I asked, but I knew. Somehow I knew.

  “Evil men like him, they see beauty, pure beauty, like what you’ve got, what your mom’s got, and they have to possess it. When it gets away from them, they will dedicate their life to get it back. Not to nurture it like Bull does, like Kill does, but to destroy it,” Steg explained. “He spent sixteen years lookin’ for it. He found it. Not because Steve and Ava told him. They died protectin’ you and your mom. ‘Cause somehow coincidence favors those evil souls in some sick joke.” He paused, musing for a second. “Maybe coincidence favored you ‘cause he found you just when you found yourself a family that would die before they let anything destroy you. That would never let that happen,” he corrected. There was a long pause. “So that’s it. What the people you love would die to protect you from, but what you need to know, just the same.”

  I was silent for a long while. Steve and Ava dead because of him. My mom endured twenty-four hours of hurt because of him. Zane went through the nightmare similar to what happened four years ago because of him. I feeling complete and utter terror at the thought of losing my mom like I lost Ava and Steve because of him.

  I lifted my head to give Steg an even stare. “Did he pay?” I asked flatly. “Did you make him pay?”

  Steg jolted, and I saw the surprise in his eyes before they turned hard. He nodded. “Yeah, darlin’, Bull made him pay.”

  I nodded. The fury that had pulsed through me like some kind of monster seemed to quiet slightly.

  There must be something wrong with me for thinking this, for feeling this, about my own father.

  “Proud of you, Lexie,” Steg declared. “Consider Kill to be a son to me, family. You’re my family too. I know a lot of strong women. Heck, I’m married to a warrior in fuckin’ heels. They’re the only kind of women that survive this life. You’re growin’ up to be one of them. You are one. Couple more years, you might give my warrior in heels a run for her money.” He winked. “You tell her I said that, I’ll deny it,” he joked, his tone lighter than it had been before.

  I smiled at him weakly, the weight of his previous words heavy on my soul.

  “I’ll let you get to your man,” he said, standing. “I’m gonna go put some Kevlar on in preparation for him findin’ out what I told you,” he declared, half joking.

  I did the same. “You don’t need to worry about that. I won’t be telling him.”

  Steg frowned at me. “Didn’t tell you this to keep it a secret, darlin’.”

  “I know,” I replied. “But he doesn’t need to steal anything else from me. He took Steve and Ava. He tried to take my mom, my happiness, my future. He isn’t taking a second more,” I said.

  Steg regarded me. He shook his head and bent in
to kiss my forehead. “Perfect for him,” he murmured.

  Steg moved to open the door.

  “Thank you,” I said to his back. “Thank you for telling me.”

  He stopped and turned. “You’re welcome, darlin’,” he replied before giving me one more look and leaving the room.

  I followed him after a beat and walked on lead-filled legs to the bays in a sort of dream. It almost felt like I was walking underwater, wading through the thick air as the words and thoughts surrounded me.

  “Lexie?” Killian’s alert and concerned voice jerked me out of my mind.

  My head lifted to see him in front of me, his face a mask of worry. I’d made it out to the garage where he was working without even noticing.

  “What is it?” he demanded, clutching my arms.

  It was safe to say Killian was uber protective over me lately, as if he hadn’t been before. He seemed to make it his life’s mission to make sure nothing else ugly touched me, which was precisely why I wasn’t telling him anything. We were just getting back to beautiful. I wouldn’t pollute that. I could deal with this darkness on my own; somehow I knew I had to.

  “Nothing,” I reassured him, giving him a smile. “Just a million and one wedding tasks to get through.”

  Kill frowned at me, seeming to see through my lie before he shook his head and kissed me softly. “Don’t stress out too much, Freckles. You got a bride, a groom, someone to marry them, and your family. You don’t need much else,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “And music. Your beautiful voice needs to be the soundtrack to this particular event.”

  I grinned back and this time it was genuine. I grasped his hand and directed us to the inside of the bay where I’d dumped my school stuff and guitar earlier. Or where Killian dumped it. I never carried much when Killian was around. His strong arms carried everything for me. Even my heart.

  “Okay, well, I better rehearse then,” I said, glad to move the subject away to happier things. “You’ve still got work to do, right?” I asked, nodding to the car.

  “Yeah, Freckles, but I won’t be too long,” he promised.

  “No problem. I like being here. I’ll play, you work.”

  Killian moved me so his hands rested on my hips, his forehead resting against mine. “Could think of nothing better, baby,” he murmured. His eyes touched my lips. “Well, maybe one thing,” he said softly and then his lips were on mine. He kissed me until all of my ugly thoughts were just a memory, and there was only me and him in the entire world.

  I knew everything would be okay. As long as I had Kill, darkness could never take me over.

  ****

  My stressful and slightly frantic wedding was worth it when the day came along. We had it at the club and Steg officiated it. I walked Mom down the aisle. Zane’s eyes were clear of demons, only light remained. We were surrounded by family, and it was beautiful.

  Of course the band played at the reception, and even Sam hadn’t complained about the “sappy love songs” we played the entire time. Kill had sat with a beer in his hand, watching me the entire time. I’d sang every word of my songs to him. That was until Wyatt kicked me off the stage to dance with Kill. He surprised everyone by singing an acoustic version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I knew he could sing, we did duets all the time, but I didn’t realize he could carry the song with so much emotion.

  Not that I had much focus on him singing. All my focus was on my boyfriend, my big, badass and broody boyfriend dancing with me.

  The big, badass, now prospect of the Sons of Templar MC was going to get in trouble with my now stepfather and member of the Sons of Templar MC if I wasn’t careful.

  “Okay, Zane,” I replied, with a smile.

  He gave Kill one more look, and then he was gone.

  I turned my full attention to Kill, who watched the doorway for a second then strode back to me.

  I clutched the sides of his cut. “Do you have super senses or something?” I asked against his mouth.

  He rubbed his nose against mine. “No, just good modes of self-preservation,” he murmured. “I like my head attached to my neck.”

  I giggled against his mouth, trailing my hands up and down the leather of his vest. He’d just began prospecting for the Sons. He turned eighteen a few weeks ago and had dropped out of school that very day. I missed him in the halls, more than anything. But he still dropped me off and picked me up, if his “duties” allowed. “Duties” I was allowed to know precious little about. He was happy, finally where he felt he belonged. That was enough, for now.

  “I’ll pick you up tomorrow,” he promised.

  “You don’t have to. I know you’re busy with... club stuff,” I told him. “It’s just another gig. You’ve been to a million,” I said, feeling bad he spent basically every weekend in the crowd or lugging my guitar around now that things had started to get serious for the band.

  And I meant serious.

  We had played more gigs around town, and out of town on the odd occasion. Word got around. It was good. Then Sam decided to upload one of our covers of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” on YouTube. It was meant to be a bit of a joke more than anything, a barb at that moment with Mr. Hazelton last year. We changed it around, slowed it down, made it ours. We hadn’t expected much more than a few views from Mom, who had promised to go around every computer in the hotel and view it.

  We were up to two hundred thousand.

  Two hundred thousand people had viewed it. I was pretty sure that wasn’t Mom clicking and re-clicking. Though I wouldn’t put it past her. We were getting a response. Noah, Wyatt, and Sam got messages from girls daily. I got messages from boys too. Mostly gross ones, ones that Kill had read with a tight jaw. So things were going well. Better than we could have ever dreamed. It wasn’t a dream, though. It was work. Hard work. When I wasn’t at school or studying, we practiced. When we weren’t practicing, we were writing songs. We had a few good ones, and Wyatt was trying to persuade me to let us perform a song I wrote at the gig tomorrow night.

  Kill fastened his hands at my neck and touched our foreheads together. “Freckles, I’m never gonna miss a single one of your gigs. Never gonna miss my girl owning the stage, owning my soul,” he murmured. “It’s not just another gig to me. ‘Cause it’s not that to you. I’m coming.”

  My stomach swirled at his words. “Okay.”

  He nodded. “Now we’ve got approximately two minutes. I wanna spend them kissin’ you.”

  Then his mouth descended on mine, and we spend the next two minutes in the beautiful limbo that was ours and ours alone.

  “Oh, Zane totally caught you making out,” Mom teased when I floated back into the house two and a half minutes later.

  My gaze shot to her. “He did not,” I protested, red creeping up my cheeks.

  Mom licked her spoon then put it back in the tub of peanut butter. “Did so,” she argued. “He came in here with his ‘I’m gonna get my buckshot’ glare and was muttering something about how he was going to make sure Kill was on clean up duty for the rest of his life, whatever that means,” she said, spooning more peanut butter into my mouth.

  I scowled at her. “Whatever,” I snapped, stealing the tub from her.

  “Hey!” she protested with her mouth full.

  I grinned at her, sinking beside her on the sofa. She lost her anger and slung an arm around me.

  We sat in harmony watching the TV.

  “I’d like to see Glen and Daryl in a fight,” she mused, eyes locked on the TV.

  “Glenn, hands down,” I replied.

  She fumbled for the remote, pausing the show so she could give me her full attention.

  “Dude, seriously?” she asked. “What are you? I was sure I didn’t drop you on your head as a child, but now I’m rethinking it.”

  “What are you fighting about now?” Zane asked, yanking Mom into his arms as he sat down.

  “Hubby, please inform my delusional daughter that Daryl Dixon would own Glenn in a fight to the dea
th,” she requested.

  Zane gave her a look. “We’re talking about fictional characters here?” he clarified.

  Mom nodded.

  He chuckled, shaking his head. “Babe,” was all he said.

  She sat back a little. “Babe is not an answer,” she snapped.

  “It is when they’re not real,” he replied.

  Mom held her hand to her chest. “You did not just say that.”

  He shook his head and pulled her in for a quick kiss. Her eyes were dreamy when he let her go.

  She cut her eyes to me. “Game changer, Zane Williams would own them both,” she told me with certainty.

  I glanced at him. His huge tattooed arms fastened firmly around my mother in a way that made me think he would never let her go if he had anything to do with it.

  He hadn’t let her out of his sight after he got her back from... him, the man I refused to think of as my father. The man that put her in the hospital. Broke her arm and made me face my beautiful and bubbly mom battered and bruised in a hospital bed.

  “Tell me the truth, did I go overboard on my eye shadow?” she rasped the first time I laid eyes on her bruised face.

  I’d let out a choked laugh, which turned into a sob, and I’d dove into her outstretched arms. We’d laid there for a long time, Zane standing on Mom’s other side, his hand on her head.

  Somehow we’d got through it. The nightmares, the flashbacks, the reality of what happened. We got through it because of what we hadn’t lost. What he hadn’t taken from us. Kill got better, Mom’s bruises faded, her arm healed. Zane and Mom got married. Happiness sprang from the darkest of places.

  SIX MONTHS LATER

  “Thank you, thank you, everyone, you’ve been amazing,” I shouted into my mic after we’d finished “Me & Bobby McGee” by Janice Joplin.

  I was almost deafened by the screaming that came after my words. I was pretty sure most of it was coming from the crowd of women right up front. Mom, Gwen, Amy, Rosie, and Lucy. They were at almost every gig—well, not Gwen as much considering she had two kids, but she was at this one. Everyone was at this one. The entire bar was lined with huge men in Sons of Templar cuts. I only had eyes for one at that moment. Icy blue eyes had been locked on me the entire time. Eyes that I sang to, even when I wasn’t looking into them.

 
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