Riding the edge, p.2
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       Riding the Edge, p.2
 

         Part #4 of Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton
Page 1

 

  Author: Jaci Burton ONE

  Rick Benetti had been fucked, and not in the fun way. No potential to shoot the bad guys, no uncovering a drug smuggling ring or going after gunrunners—he’d gotten the babysitting job instead. God forbid he should get a kick-ass assignment like the other Wild Riders.

  One would think working undercover for the government would give him a hot job like the other guys. Like Mac had done when he’d had to carry around a live virus from Chicago to Dallas to make sure it didn’t fall into the wrong hands. Or when Diaz and Jessie had gone undercover to join a bike gang that was selling guns to survivalists. Or Spence, who’d had a prime job working with Agent Shadoe Grayson in a strip club in New Or-leans in order to bring in a rogue federal agent who was working with the Colombians to smuggle drugs.

  Now those were the juicy cases.

  Him? He had to go find and babysit some Nevada senator’s daughter who thought it might be fun to join a biker gang.

  Like that was a national security threat?

  Fuck. More likely some bored college student thumbing her nose at Daddy’s authority by joining up with the Hellraisers biker gang. Though Rick had to admit, the Hellraisers weren’t exactly the soft and cuddly type of bikers. He should know—he used to be one of them.

  And the last thing he wanted to do after being out of the club for ten years was get back in it. Which was what General Grange Lee, head of the Wild Riders, told him he’d have to do.

  His criminal past behind him, Rick had lived a clean life for the past ten years. Not by choice, initially. At seventeen he’d been bad and about to get worse. Until one bust and the chance of a lifetime had changed his life. General Grange Lee had come into his life and offered him the opportunity to go to work for the United States government. Facing the alternative of prison, Rick had taken General Lee up on his offer.

  Now he was heading back into his old life again, insinuating himself into the gang that had caused him so much trouble. And the leader of that gang in Las Vegas? His cousin Bo.

  Yeah, that made sense. Bo had always been a badass. Kind of like himself—a badass with delusions of grandeur. General Lee had kicked that out of Rick. Made him a team player. Bo, though, that was another matter. Bo hadn’t had the benefit of General Lee’s firm but fair guidance.

  Maybe the Hellraisers had cleaned up their act in the ten years Rick had been out of the picture. But from the intelligence he’d gotten from General Lee at Wild Riders headquarters, it didn’t look that way. Which was why he’d been given this assignment. First, because he used to be part of this gang and he could get in easier. Second, because Ava Vargas’s involvement with the Hellraisers could be a potential embarrassment for Senator Hector Vargas, not to mention a national security risk, especially since Senator Vargas was currently working on significant national antidrug legislation.

  Rick supposed having one’s daughter involved in a suspected drug-running biker gang would be a PR nightmare for a senator about to write a major antidrug law.

  Still, Rick would rather be going undercover anywhere else but back with his old gang, even if he did see the logic of why he’d been given this particular assignment.

  Didn’t mean he had to like it.

  He’d fired up his Harley and ridden from Dallas to Las Vegas. Bike week in Vegas was about to roll out, so the Hellraisers should be on the Strip. Now he just had to find them and get himself back in the old gang again.

  Rick rode the Strip, ignoring the colorful, neon flashing lights of all the casinos, his focus on the bikes and riders that had poured into town for the big blast that would last a week.

  Some were single riders, or a group of friends. Others were part of clubs, their jackets and vests labeled with their gang names. It didn’t take long for Rick to find the Hellraisers. They were a large group and their leather vests bore the flame insignias and their club name across the back. He goosed the throttle and increased his speed to catch up, riding past the gang until he spotted his cousin at the lead, then turned his bike around. Bo had pulled up at a local hangout for bikers—a bar. Rick rode in and parked next to Bo.

  Bo gave him a cursory glance of contempt, a “don’t fuck with me” kind of attitude. Rick smirked, realizing Bo hadn’t even looked at him, just given him a quick once-over and labeled him an outsider.

  “Still an asshole as always, aren’t you, Bo?” Rick said as he got off his Harley.

  Bo’s head shot up, then recognition dawned. His face split in a wide grin. “Rick? Son of a bitch. It is you. ” He grabbed Rick in a bear hug. “How long has it been?”

  Rick hugged him back, then separated. “Ten years, man. ”

  They headed inside the bar and ordered two beers. Rick noticed only some of the Hellraisers had come in with Bo. The others stayed outside. Watchers, no doubt, keeping an eye out for rival gangs the Hellraisers might have a beef with. The last thing the Hellraisers would want is to be cornered inside the bar. The ones outside would give a heads-up if Bo and others needed to make a quick exit.

  Bo took a long pull from his bottle of beer, then settled his gaze on Rick. “Last time I saw you, you were getting arrested. ”

  Rick laughed. “Same for you, since we were getting arrested at the same time for the same thing. ”

  Bo shrugged. “I did six months and got three years’ probation on that one. But never saw you again. What the hell happened?”

  “You know as well as I do that wasn’t my first arrest like it was yours. ”

  Bo grinned. “I was sneakier than you. And a faster runner. ”

  “So you say. I think you threw me under the bus. ”

  Bo laughed. “So, you did time?”

  “They sent me down for three years. ”

  Bo winced. “Ouch. That’s rough. ”

  “Yeah. After that I took to the road. Prison was damned confining. I needed some space. ”

  “So where’ve you been?”

  “Chicago, mainly. But mostly I just ride all over. Settling in one place too long usually means problems for me. ”

  “Why are you back?”

  “Figured I’d been gone long enough. I wanted to come home for a while. ”

  “Missing family?”

  Rick snorted and took a drink of beer. “I think we both know better than that. We don’t have family. Except each other. ”

  Bo tipped the top of his beer to Rick’s. “Amen to that. Useless fucking families is what we had. But we did have each other. Hey. I’m sorry I didn’t know about you doing time. You know how it is. ”

  “I know. ” When you got arrested you were on your own. If you disappeared, the gang figured you were either in jail or dead. No one bothered to check up on you. You were family as long as you were in the gang. If you left, you were history. End of story.

  “So are you back for good?”

  “Maybe. ”

  “Interested in rejoining the club?”

  “Maybe. ”

  Bo nodded. “So that means yes. ”

  Rick smiled over the rim of the beer bottle. “Maybe. ”

  Bo laughed. “You’re such a dick. I’ll have my people check you out. Make sure you’ve been where you say you’ve been. Not that I don’t trust you . . . ”

  “But nobody gets into the Hellraisers—or back in—without being investigated. I know. ” And that’s why Grange had set up a phony background for him, including a drug bust in Chicago and the prison record he’d just told Bo about. If there was one thing the Hellraisers loved, it was a badass with a reputation. And Rick wanted to make sure he had the rep to ease back in. Which was probably why Senator Vargas was pissing himself over his daughter’s involvement with the gang. Not exactly a club filled with choirboys. If Rick had a daughter riding with the Hellraisers, he wouldn’t be too happy about it, either. Not that he was ever going to get married and have a kid. But if he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t allow her to run wi
th a group like this.

  “In the meantime, you can ride with us. Background check should only take a day or so. If you want back in, that is. ”

  “I might. What are the Hellraisers into these days?”

  “Mostly trouble. ”

  Rick laughed. “Just my kind of action. ” He figured it would be easy to get back in the gang again, especially with Bo at the helm. Now he’d just have to find Ava Vargas and get close enough to her to figure out her angle.

  Ava Vargas stared at herself in the mirror of her bedroom.

  “I don’t think leather is a good look for me. ” She turned this way and that, unused to seeing herself decked head to toe in leather jacket, chaps, and boots.

  “Are you kidding? You’re hot. ” Lacey came into the bedroom and studied Ava, then shook her head. “I’d kill for boobs like yours. ”

  “These things are what I’m afraid of. Does this top really have to be so . . . tight?” She plucked at the clingy spandex that seemed to want to mold to her breasts and outline them like the neon signs on the Vegas Strip. Her breasts were large enough. She didn’t need to advertise their existence.

  “All the girls wear their tops like that. Trust me, you’ll fit right in. ”

  That’s what Ava was going for, wasn’t it? To fit into this biker gang that her best friend Lacey had immersed herself in for the past year. The one that had ripped Lacey away from school, that had changed her best friend’s life, her personality, everything.

  A year ago, Lacey had been a graduate student. She and Ava had done everything together. But then Lacey had met a biker and had all but disappeared from Ava’s life. Lacey had quit school and become a biker babe, spending all her time riding with her boyfriend. Even worse than that, she’d become a slacker, and that wasn’t Lacey at all.

  And Ava would know, because she and Lacey had been friends since kindergarten. They knew everything about each other. They’d been in each other’s classes all through school, and room-mates in college. After they’d gotten their undergraduate degrees, they’d shared an apartment while they’d studied for their master’s degrees. And that’s when Ava had lost Lacey to the biker world.

  Ava had completed her master’s this year. Lacey indicated zero interest in going back to school, saying she was “over it. ”

  There was something just not right about that. Was this biker gang some kind of cult? And had Lacey drank the Kool-Aid? With Lacey so out of touch and unwilling to communicate about this new lifestyle other than waxing poetic about the new guy in her life and singing the praises of life riding on the back of a Harley, Ava figured the only way to find out what was going on in Lacey’s life was to join it.

  So she’d started hanging out at the biker joints over the past couple months—especially since it was the only way she could spend time with Lacey. She’d meet her at bars and clubs that catered to the bikers. She didn’t see anything unusual going on there, other than beer, pool, smoking, and just general mayhem. Still, Ava wasn’t convinced. Because the Lacey she saw there was so . . . different from the one she’d always known.

  She had to make sure Lacey was safe, that the decisions she was making were from her own free will. And right now, Ava just wasn’t certain that was the case. She was a little suspicious of Lacey’s boyfriend, because as soon as Lacey had started up with this gang, she had packed up and moved out of their apartment, telling Ava that life in the biker gang was nomadic and it didn’t seem fair to stay in the apartment with Ava. She’d suggested Ava find another roommate. Cold, harsh . . . cutting ties just like that.

  And that wasn’t like Lacey at all. Lacey was warm, family-oriented, and friendly. They’d been thick as thieves since childhood.

  Ava didn’t want another roommate. She didn’t need one, could certainly afford the place on her own.

  She wanted her old friend back. Or at least she needed to know that Lacey was okay, that the decisions she made were her own. Because whenever she saw Lacey—infrequently as that was—there was just something not quite right about her friend. Something in her eyes . . .
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