Riding the edge, p.24
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       Riding the Edge, p.24
 

         Part #4 of Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton
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Page 23

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “Good morning. ”

  “Wow, already showered and packing?”

  “The bed gets cold and empty when you’re not in it. It’s like an automatic wake-up call. ”

  He set the coffees down and came over to her, pulled her into his arms and kissed her. When he pulled away, her toes were curling and her nipples beaded against her bra.

  “I like that,” he said, rubbing his thumb over her bottom lip.

  She liked it, too.

  He handed her a cup of coffee and they went outside on the balcony to drink it.

  “I’ll miss this place. ” She looked out over the turquoise water, as calm and peaceful in the morning as the lazy town it blanketed. It was already warm, though at least there was a bank of clouds this morning instead of heavy, hot sun.

  “Yeah, it is kind of nice. ”

  “I might want to come back here someday. ”

  He glanced over at her, his expression unfathomable. “Well, maybe you will. You can always come with Lacey. ”

  Not with him. With Lacey.

  She shrugged. “Maybe. Not sure Lacey and I will be hanging out much anymore. ”

  “Yeah? Why’s that?”

  “I’ve come to the realization that we need to go our separate ways. We have nothing in common anymore. ”

  He nodded. “It happens sometimes. You’re probably making the right choice. ”

  He said it so matter-of-factly, as if twenty years of friendship meant nothing. Her emotions were tied in knots, like her stomach.

  “What?”

  “You just made it sound so easy. As if walking away from someone close to you would mean nothing. ”

  He shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never felt close to anyone. ”

  She drew her knees up to her chest, pondered how that would feel. To be so isolated, so alone.

  “Don’t feel sorry for me, Ava. ”

  “I don’t feel sorry for you. Okay, maybe I do. You’re too old to have gone that long without having someone . . . some attachments in your life. ”

  He shrugged. “I’m fine with it. ”

  “Are you? Are you really?”

  He opened his mouth, no doubt to shoot off some smartass retort. This time, she wasn’t going to let it happen.

  “Rick. Tell me. ”

  He stopped then. Looked at her. “I had shitty parents. So did Bo. Not everyone comes from a great family. So Bo and I bonded, and for a long time we had each others’ backs. ”

  “Did the courts take you away from your families?”

  “Off and on. You know how it is. ”

  “Yes, I do. Too often the removal isn’t permanent, though many parents should never get their kids back. ”

  He looked over the balcony. “Amen to that. There were times I was happier with my foster parents than I ever was at home. But I knew better than to get settled or to think I’d stay. ”

  “Because they’d send you back home. ”

  He nodded.

  Ava ached for him, for the child who’d craved stability and someone to love him, but had none. “I’m sorry. ”

  He half turned and gave her a smile, but she saw the sadness in his eyes. “Not your fault, darlin’. ”

  She stood and went to him, wrapped her arms around him and laid her cheek against his back, wishing she could love him, that he’d let her. But she knew anything she said right now would only be taken as pity. And that’s not at all what she felt for him.

  “You can’t fix me, Ava. I’m a grown man. I survived it. ”

  She squeezed him a little tighter. “It doesn’t make the past hurt any less, or the memories go away. ”

  She was in love with him. She knew it now for certain. He’d been through so much, could have turned out so differently. He could be a prick, treating people like dirt, like he’d been treated. Instead, he had a heart, emotions, warmth, and passion and he needed to give that to someone.

  Only he didn’t see it. He didn’t see it and Ava didn’t know how to make him see what he needed.

  Rick didn’t form attachments like she did. Maybe it was easy for him to walk away. Like it would be easy for him to walk away from her.

  A man like him, with his background and the way he was raised . . . yeah, Ava could certainly see him leaving and not looking back.

  He turned, smiled down at her, and kissed her. “The past is dead. Leave it there. ”

  She blinked back the rush of tears that threatened to burst. “You’re right. Everyone needs to look forward. Even me. ”

  He tipped her nose with his finger. “That’s right. Which means that you need to stop thinking about vacations in Mexico and get back to reality. ”

  She laughed. “So true. It’s time for me to start thinking about my doctorate degree. I have to find a school. ”

  “Yeah. Time for me to get back to work, too. ”

  “I guess this is the end of the fun, then. ”

  “Fun never has to end if you don’t want it to. ”

  He winked and smiled, and dammit if her stupid heart didn’t feel lighter at his words.

  She didn’t need him. Love between them would never work. When they got back to the States, it was over between them.

  And that was that. She wasn’t going to think about it anymore.

  Much.

  Fortunately, Bo must have dragged Lacey out of bed, because Rick’s phone rang signaling they were ready to go.

  “Ready to exit the Garden of Eden?”

  “I suppose so. ”

  He grabbed their bags and they went downstairs. Bo had already brought Lacey’s car around to the front, then went to fetch his bike. Rick packed Ava’s bag in the trunk of Lacey’s car.

  “We’ll follow behind you. ”

  She nodded.

  He put his hands on her hips, kissed her. Her stomach fluttered. Really, she wasn’t a teenager, and they’d been intimate several times. His kiss shouldn’t still affect her like this.

  But it did.

  “I’ll see you back in the States,” he said with a wink.

  She smiled and felt giddy.

  Lacey laughed at her as they climbed in the car.

  “Girl, you got it bad for him. ”

  That was an understatement.

  Rick followed close behind Lacey’s car all the way to the border, paying very little attention to Bo other than making sure Bo stayed with them.

  He did. They stopped once for gas, and otherwise made good time all the way to the California border.

  Now it was showtime. The border was crowded, the going slow, and for good reason.

  DEA was stopping traffic to do random inspections.

  Rick masked his smile.

  Bo pulled up next to Rick and turned to him.

  “Fuck. This isn’t what we wanted today. ”

  Rick shrugged. “You said it was hidden well, right?”

  “Yeah. Still, I’d hate to lose all that inventory. ”

  What an asshole. He’d throw Lacey and Ava under the bus to protect his assets—and his own ass.

  They moved up the line and Rick slid his bike in front of Bo’s. Lacey’s car was up next. Rick looked over his shoulder at Bo, who licked his lips.

  Nervous. Good. He should be.

  The car was inspected thoroughly, and the drug dogs sniffed around the vehicle. Ava and Lacey appeared to be chatting amicably while they waited, unsuspecting of a setup.

  After the longest five minutes ever, the guards waved the car through.

  Even with the bike engines idling, Rick heard Bo’s sigh of relief.

  “We’re home free now, pal,” Bo said.

  Rick smiled and goosed the throttle, taking his bike to the checkpoint. He cleared it easy, moved across the border, and pulled over at the roadside truck stop where Ava and Lacey were waiting.

  “
Wow, huge inspection going on today,” Lacey said. “That’s never happened before. ”

  Rick climbed off his bike. “It’s a random checkpoint. The DEA does this every now and then to sniff out possible drug mules. ”

  Ava’s brows rose. “Really? Fascinating. ”

  Rick leaned against Lacey’s car and crossed his arms. And waited.

  Bo pulled his bike to the inspection station. The guards and dogs went over to the bike. It didn’t take any time at all before the dogs started signaling with loud barks, lunging toward Bo and the Harley. Bo took several steps back, guns were drawn, and Bo was ordered to hit the ground.

  “Oh my God. What’s going on?” Lacey asked in horror.

  “Just keep watching,” Rick said.

  Bo’s saddlebags were opened and the brown paper-wrapped drugs were lifted. There were no clothes or any of the items Bo had brought with him to Mexico. Just drugs. Everywhere on the bike.

  “Holy shit,” Ava said. “Are those drugs?”

  “Yep. ”

  Lacey shook her head. “That’s not possible. Bo wouldn’t do that. He doesn’t—”

  “He does, and he did. In fact, he did it to you, Lacey. He’s been doing it to you. ”

  Her eyes widened. “What? What are you talking about?”

  “Those drugs you see them lifting off Bo’s bike? I saw him and a few of his buddies plant them in your car last night. ”

  Lacey shook her head. “No. You’re wrong. ”

  “Yeah. Bo was using you as a mule. This wasn’t the first time, either. These spa trips to Mexico you’ve been taking once a month? Every single one has been so you could bring drugs across the border for him. ”

  Lacey’s eyes filled with tears. She backed away from Rick. “That’s a lie. You’re full of shit. Bo would never do that to me. He loves me. ”

  “He loves your car and loves that you were an easy mark. ”

  “I don’t believe you,” she croaked.

  But Rick could tell from the defeated slump of her shoulders that Lacey did believe him. Ava put her arms around Lacey and Lacey crumpled against her and dissolved into tears.

  Lacey turned her tear-streaked face to him. “A mule? He used me to transport drugs?”

  “Yes. ”

  “What would have happened if they’d found drugs in my car. ”

  “You would of been arrested. ”

  Lacey’s hand flew to her mouth and she cried hard for a few minutes. Then anger took over as she glared at the border where they were handcuffing Bo. “That son of a bitch. He used me. I trusted him. ”

  Ava held on to a sobbing Lacey as she raised her gaze to Rick. “How did you know?”

  “I suspected based on a few things Bo said to me. I didn’t know for sure until I saw them moving the drugs into a removable rear hood on Lacey’s car last night. ”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  Rick shook his head. “It was better that you not know until I had you two in the clear. ”

  “I understand. I think. But God, how could he do this to her? When I think of what could have happened . . . ”

  “I know. ”

  “So what about Bo?”

  Rick couldn’t help his smile. “He’s on his own now. ”

  Lacey jerked her head up and spun around to look at the checkpoint where the agents were putting Bo in an unmarked car. “I hope the asshole rots in prison for the rest of his life. ”

  Rick put his arm around her. “That’s a pretty good estimate of what’s going to happen to him. ”

  Ava frowned. “Aren’t you at all upset about this? He’s your cousin. ”

  “Yeah, he is. And he’s dirty. And he used two women as drug mules. He has no honor. As far as I’m concerned he deserves everything he gets. So how about a cup of coffee?”

  Lacey sniffed and raised tear-stained eyes and a tremulous smile to Rick. “I’d love one. ”

  “Come on. Let’s go inside this greasy joint and get a burger. And celebrate. ”

 
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