Riding the edge, p.26
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       Riding the Edge, p.26
 

         Part #4 of Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton
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Page 25

  Author: Jaci Burton

  She’d fallen in love with Rick, and had been blinded to the reality that he’d felt nothing for her. She’d been fun for sex, and that was all. And when it was time for him to walk away, he’d done it so easily.

  Oh sure, he’d appeared to be having a difficult time, his expression pained, his tone one of regret. But he’d still walked and done so without thought of hurting her. And right after she’d declared that she loved him.

  How naïve could she be?

  Obviously she and her best friend still had more in common than she thought.

  She’d called Lacey, who’d gone home to her parents. She said she was resting and trying to get over what Bo had done to her. She was already involved in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. Other than that, she had no plans beyond avoiding drugs and alcohol and clearing her head. Ava promised to go see her as soon as Lacey was up to visitors.

  And as soon as Ava was up to it, too.

  Right now her only intent was to head to campus and start redirecting her focus back on school. It was time to get back to work. Burying herself in her search for a school for her Ph. D. would take her mind off Rick, off ridiculous notions of love and bike riders and living the wild life, which wasn’t her at all.

  Her life was clean tabletops, bare walls, and buried emotions. She should have known better.

  After showering and packing her laptop, she straightened up her apartment and was just about to grab her purse and head out the door when the doorbell rang. She opened it, shocked to her toes to see her father standing there.

  “Dad?”

  Her father was still as imposing as ever, filling her doorway with his frowning persona. Even at sixty, with his full, thick head of salt-and-pepper hair, he was still robust as ever. And still as intimidating as he’d always been.

  “Ava. May I come in?”

  “Of course. ” She stepped aside and he moved in, scanning her apartment as if he were looking for something. Or someone.

  “Would you like some coffee? I don’t have any made, but it would only take—”

  He waved his hand. “No. Not necessary. I just wanted to check on you, to see if you were all right. ”

  She cocked a brow. “Of course I’m all right. Why?”

  “I got the report about your activities with the Hellraisers. Have you finished cavorting with this biker gang now?”

  Ava inhaled and sighed, then moved away to sit on the sofa. Her father had always known every move she made, especially since he took public office. It irritated her, but she tried to remain oblivious to his interference. He mostly just kept tabs on her without getting involved. Then again, she usually never did anything for him to get involved with. “And how did you know about that?”

  “I’ve known about it for some time now, ever since you started hanging out with Lacey and that undesirable boyfriend of hers. Do you have any idea how that would look for me if you were involved in illegal activities with the Hellraisers?”

  How nice of him to look after her welfare. Then again, he was more on the mark than Ava cared to admit. “Well, I’m fine. And I won’t be hanging out with them again. ”

  “I’m glad to hear that, especially since you barely escaped federal drug charges at the Mexican border. Good God, Ava, what were you thinking?”

  The blood in her face drained, leaving her cold. “What did you say?”

  “You heard me. ”

  “How did you know about that? Did Lacey tell you?”

  “I don’t speak to Lacey and you know that. I’ve never thought that girl was an appropriate friend for you. ”

  Ava’s stomach knotted. No one was good enough for Ava according to her father. After all, Lacey’s parents were blue collar. Not the right connections for the great Senator Vargas’s daughter. She tried to love her parents, but their narrow-minded view of the world made it so damn hard.

  “So if you didn’t hear it from Lacey, how did you know?”

  “Because I’ve had you under surveillance. The Feds put someone undercover to watch you. ”

  “What? Are you kidding me? When?”

  “As soon as you hooked up with the Hellraisers for bike week. ”

  No. That couldn’t be. She would have noticed. She always noticed. Her father had security personnel tailing her all the time. She’d become an expert at dodging security detail when she wanted to be alone with a date, or go out with her friends. Security personnel were always so obvious. And if there’d been a federal officer . . .

  Undercover.

  Undercover in the Hellraisers? Who? And why?

  Her curiosity turned to anger. “You had me watched? I want to know why. ”

  Her father took a seat on the sofa across from hers. She noted the crisp, perfectly starched line in his trousers, thought of her mother. Everything so perfect . . . nothing out of place.

  “As you can imagine, there was some concern about my daughter being involved with a gang suspected of heavy involvement in drug distribution. You know I head the committee drafting major antidrug legislation. I told you that when you made contact with Lacey after she joined that gang. ”

  Ava rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t joining the gang, Dad. I was trying to reach Lacey. ”

  “Nevertheless, imagine how it would look if you somehow got tangled up with this gang, with drugs, and me heading this committee. It could seriously undermine this important legislation. ”

  Yes, God forbid the legislation be harmed.

  “And you were so worried about the harm I’d do that you put someone undercover to keep an eye on me. ”

  “To protect you from harm. ”

  Bullshit. More likely to preserve his reputation.

  “And it turns out my fears weren’t unwarranted. Look at the mess you got yourself into. It’s a good thing we had a federal agent on hand to save the day. ”

  Instantly it clicked. Rick. Oh, God, it was Rick. He was the federal agent.

  That’s why he’d “dumped” her. That’s why he’d nearly run out of her apartment that night. He couldn’t tell her who he really was. Then again, maybe she was just his assignment and nothing more. Maybe he didn’t care about her.

  Or maybe he did, and he wasn’t supposed to.

  God, she had to know, had to talk to him and find out.

  “I want to talk to this federal agent. ”

  Her father shook his head. “Not possible. ”

  “It’s possible and you know it. I want to see Rick and now. ”

  Her father raised his brows. “You do not speak to me that way, Ava. ”

  Ava stood, so angry she could barely breathe. “Look. You’re the one who set me up. Do you think I’m such a child that you couldn’t have just come to me and talked to me rationally about your concerns? I’m an adult, Father. I understand legalities and your job and your reputation and PR. But no, you continue to worry more about the shit I might step in and how it might affect you, and worry less about how I feel. So now I don’t care how you feel. I need to talk to Rick. ”

  Her father looked stunned. Good. It felt damn good to finally unload her frustrations on him.

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You have always been treated well. ”

  “Yes, like a caged pet. ”

  Her father stood. “I don’t need to listen to this. ”

  “Find Rick for me. ”

  He shook his head. “Getting involved with an undercover federal agent is unacceptable. ”

  She rolled her eyes, frustration knotting her stomach. “Oh please. He’s a federal agent. How much more aboveboard can it get?”

  “No. I won’t have it. ”

  Then she realized her father’s refusal had nothing to do with Rick, or even her. It was about him, his political career. He didn’t care how she felt, never cared about what was important to her or what she wanted. Somewhere down the road he’d probably
find some lawyer or politician that he thought would be a good match for her. Love didn’t matter with him. It never had. There was no love between her parents, so that shouldn’t surprise her. He’d expect her to be dutiful and find a man who would cement his political career.

  Hell could freeze over before she allowed that to happen.

  She marched to the front door and opened it. “Good-bye, Father. ”

  “We’ll speak again soon. ”

  Not likely.

  She closed the door behind him, blinking back the tears that pricked her eyes.

  Now she had no idea how to find Rick, no clue which branch of the government he even worked for.

  And without her father’s connections, she was afraid Rick was lost to her.

  FOURTEEN

  “He’s moping. ”

  “It’s pathetic, really. ”

  “He might need an antidepressant. ”

  “Or, I could beat the shit out of him. ”

  “I’m in the fucking room, assholes. ” Rick refused to turn around and acknowledge the other Wild Riders, who’d decided to give a verbal report to their superior officer, General Grange Lee, on the state of Rick’s emotional health.

  General Lee rounded the corner of the main living area, where Rick was trying to lose himself in a video game.

  “Is that true? You moping?”

  “No, sir. I’m playing video games. ”

  “Yeah, he’s playing video games,” Diaz said, coming around to stand next to Grange. Diaz crossed his arms and stared down at Rick. “And he’s sucking at all of them. ”

  Grange arched a brow. “Rick, sucking at video games? You’re the house champ. ”

  “I’m a little off my game. ”

  AJ leaped over the sofa and grabbed one of the controllers. “Seriously off his game. Even Jessie can beat him. ”

  “Hey, dickhead, I heard that. ” Jessie sauntered into the room, stuck out her tongue at AJ, and linked her arm with Diaz’s. “But seriously, Rick, you do look kind of sad. ”

  “I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I’m not moping. Why don’t you all leave me the hell alone?”

  “Now what fun would that be?” Mac asked as he came in, an apple in his hand. “You know none of us get to have secrets. ”

  “I don’t have any secrets. ”

  “He’s hung up on his last assignment,” Spence said, leaning his beefy frame against the doorway.

  Rick had just about enough. He tossed the controller on the table and stood. “My last assignment is over. ”

  “Yeah,” Spence said with a laugh. “And that’s your problem. You fell in love with her. ”

  “Spoken by someone who knows all too well what it’s like to fall in love while on assignment,” Jessie teased.

  Spence nodded. “You got me pegged, darlin’. In fact, my lady is waiting for me at home. My paperwork is done, Grange. I’m outta here. ” Spence pivoted, but stopped and half turned. “Rick, trust me. If you love her, go tell her. The ache doesn’t go away. ”

  “I don’t love her. ” But he couldn’t look at any of them when he said it, because that was his problem. He couldn’t stop thinking about Ava, couldn’t get her face out of his mind. He didn’t like the way he’d left her, the things he’d said to her. He’d hurt her. It was wrong.

  “All of you, go find something to do. You, come with me. ” Grange motioned to Rick. And when Grange commanded, you went.

  The rest of the team scattered, and Rick followed Grange into his office. The general shut the door and they took seats in front of the general’s desk.

  “Okay, so this Ava Vargas. You love her?”

  Leave it to Grange to be direct. “I don’t know. ”

  “Then go find out. ”

  “She was an assignment. She doesn’t even know who I really am. ”

  “Then go tell her. ”
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