Riding the edge, p.4
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       Riding the Edge, p.4
 

         Part #4 of Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton
Page 3

  Author: Jaci Burton

  But through all of it, there had been Lacey. At least until a year ago. And without her support system, her best friend, the last year had been difficult, nearly unbearable.

  She hadn’t realized how isolated she’d become until Lacey was no longer there.

  How pathetic. Where had her life gone?

  She knew—she didn’t have one. Everything had been about school for so long she couldn’t remember when it wasn’t. But now that she had her master’s, she was taking some time off before she went for her doctorate. What better time to reconnect with her best friend and make sure all was right with her?

  “So are you from around here, Ava?”

  “Yes, I am. I’ve been here my whole life. ”

  “What do you do?”

  And wasn’t that the question of the hour? What did she do, besides spend her life with her nose buried in a textbook or her mind engrossed in a lecture? “I just finished up my master’s in social work. ”

  Rick stopped, half turned, stared at her. “Social work?”

  “Yes. Why?”

  He shook his head and started walking again. She ran to catch up, grabbing his arm to stop him again. “Why did you give me that look?”

  “What look?”

  “The one that made me feel like a leper. ”

  “Did I? Sorry. I didn’t mean to. ”

  “Do you have a problem with social workers?”

  His smirk was his answer. He jammed his hands in his pockets and started to walk away.

  “Rick. Seriously. ”

  He stopped and turned to her. “Let’s just say that social workers haven’t always been my allies. ”

  “Why?”

  He looked up and down the street. “It’s nothing. ”

  “It’s something. ”

  He let out a short laugh and his step quickened. “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just have some fun, okay?”

  She linked her arm in his. “Then get to know me. I want to know more about you. ”

  He looked down where her hand was resting on his arm.

  Yes, it was a pretty bold move. She had no right to ask him to trust her. He was right. He didn’t know her. And she was just a recent graduate. What could she do to help him? She didn’t know his story or what he’d been through.

  But she knew pain and resentment when she heard it. She’d been through plenty of cases in the past few years to understand how families fell apart, and how children were often the biggest casualties.

  Is that what had happened to Rick? Is that why he’d called Bo his only family?

  She suddenly wanted to know a lot more about Rick Benetti, and not just because he was a biker, part of this gang, and a link to some knowledge about Lacey’s current lifestyle.

  Rick didn’t know what to make of Ava. What was her purpose in the Hellraisers? She acted like some shy mouse one minute, then was bold and confident the next.

  And he needed to figure her out, find out the extent of her involvement with the Hellraisers—who she knew and what she knew. None of that included her finding out a goddamned thing about him. That wasn’t part of his assignment.

  She was a social worker. Jesus. From the time he was six years old until the cops arrested him when he was seventeen, he’d seen plenty of social workers. And not a single damn one of them had helped him, had cared enough about him to actually listen to what he was saying. He was just another number, another file to pass from one side of their desk to another, to funnel through the system. They wore this façade of caring on their faces, but their only function was to operate like robots and get as many files off their desks as possible. Not people—not kids who were actual human beings—just files. Case numbers.

  Ava was young and fresh and beautiful. In a few years she was going to think differently, would be worn out, wrung dry and numb from a system that would suck the very life out of her. He’d bet that right now she thought she was going to singlehandedly save the world.

  She could keep thinking that. But it was way too damn late to save him.

  He quickened his pace, forcing her to keep up. They finally caught up with Bo and Lacey at the head of the pack.

  “Hey, there you are,” Bo said. “Thought maybe you two had hit it off and found some dark alley to get it on. ”

  “Well, the night’s still young. ” Rick put his arm around Ava. Ava gave a nervous smile. Rick grinned. For some reason he liked making her uncomfortable. Maybe it would take her mind off wanting to delve too deeply into his past. Maybe it would send her running home to her daddy. He liked that idea even better. It would shorten his assignment so he could get onto a real case.

  “Not much action going on here. I thought we’d take a desert ride tonight. Maybe have a bonfire over at Joey’s place. ”

  Rick nodded at Bo. “Sounds good. ” He turned to Ava. “Ready to ride?”

  “Uh, sure. ”

  They circled around the block and made their way back to their bikes. Rick pulled a helmet out of his saddlebag for Ava and handed it to her. He put his helmet on, climbed on his Harley, and waited for her.

  She stood next to the bike and stared at it, helmet in hand.

  “Is there a problem?”

  “Uh, no. ” She fiddled with the straps of the helmet.

  “Ava. ”

  “Yeah?”

  “Have you ever ridden before?”

  “Sure. Lots of times. ”

  “Remember when I told you earlier that you were a terrible liar?”

  “Yes. ”

  “You’re still a terrible liar. ”

  She cocked her head to the side. “How did you know?”

  “You don’t know how to put a helmet on. ” He got off the bike and put the helmet on her head and helped her fasten the strap so it was tight, but not too tight. Then he opened up the saddlebags and pulled out an extra pair of gloves and some goggles. “Here, you’ll need these, too. ”

  “Thanks. ” She put on the goggles and the gloves.

  He grabbed the zipper of her leather jacket and started to pull it up, pausing when his knuckles brushed against her breasts. She inhaled with a sharp gasp.

  “A little tight here. ”

  “Um. Yes. ”

  She seemed to try to make herself smaller, as if pushing her shoulders forward could make her breasts smaller.

  “Honey, you can’t downsize them. They are what they are. ” He pulled the jacket edges closer, then finished zipping her up. “They’re really nice, by the way. ”

  She seemed to relax, then, because she laughed. “Thanks. They get in the way a lot. ”

  “Yeah, but I’ll bet they’re a lot of fun to play with. ”

  She seemed to consider saying something, but instead she closed her mouth and her lips curled upward in a knowing smile.

  It made his dick twitch.

  “Ready?”

  “Yes. ”

  He got on the bike and she climbed on behind him.

  “Lean the same way I lean. Press your thighs against mine. It’ll help with your balance. And hold on to me if you feel unsteady. ” He had a back pad for the rider, but a new rider sometimes felt a little wobbly until they got their bearings. He started up the bike and let it warm up while he waited for everyone else, giving the throttle a boost. Ava leaned closer and slid her hands in the pockets of his jacket.

  Okay, he had to admit he liked that, enjoyed the feel of her body pressed against his back. He very rarely had someone on the back of his bike. He’d grown so used to his solitary lifestyle that it was unusual to have a rider behind him. And hell, who wouldn’t like those great tits of hers pillowed against his back?

  Sometimes he had shitty assignments. He’d thought this was one of them.

  Then again, riding with a hot woman against you could be a definite perk, so maybe it wouldn’t be all bad.


  THREE

  Ava had done a really bad job trying to portray herself as a seasoned bike rider. At least to Rick, who hadn’t fallen for it. She thought she could just slip right in and act like she belonged there, like she fit in.

  Apparently not.

  Then again, what was she trying to prove? She supposed she wanted to look like she belonged. No point in that. She was totally out of her element here and everyone knew it. She might as well just hang on and enjoy the newness of the experience and let a seasoned veteran like Rick teach her the ropes.

  Like riding in darkness into the desert, where the roads curved and the biting wind stung her cheeks and made her wish she’d applied some lip balm to keep her lips from drying out.

  There was a lot she didn’t know.

  The riding part? She loved it. Hanging on to Rick while the bike hugged the corners of the road was a thrill she hadn’t expected. She felt like she was part of the motorcycle itself. It was exhilarating. And the closer she got to Rick, the warmer she felt, which was a nice side benefit. He didn’t seem to mind her pressed up against him, either. His body was solid and as she laid her chin on his shoulder, it gave her a great view. He had a good command of the bike, knew what he was doing, which helped her relax. He never once even seemed to notice her weight or the fact he had an extra body on the back. He just focused on the road ahead. The ride was smooth and she wished it was daylight so she could see the desert.

  After riding for a while—she’d lost track of time and had no idea how long they’d ridden—they pulled down a stretch of road that led to a large, sprawling homestead. In the darkness she could make out fences and heard the rustle of horses, so maybe a farm or a ranch or something? Dogs barked in the distance, and loose dirt shifted under her feet after they climbed off the bike.

  And, oh, she was sore, her muscles tight from being in one position for so long. She resisted the urge to rub her butt.

  “How do you feel?”

  “Fine. ” She took off the helmet and handed it to Rick.

  “Stiff?”

  “A little. ”

  He smiled and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’ll get used to it. It’s like riding a horse. Your muscles have to adjust. ”

  She hoped they adjusted fast. “Where are we?”

  “Joey’s house. He’s one of the Hellraisers, owns a ranch out here in the desert. The Hellraisers party a lot out here because it’s away from the watchful eye of the law. ”

  “Really. ”

  “Yeah. Come on. ”

  Ava wondered what kind of partying went on that the Hellraisers didn’t want the police or county sheriff to know about. She caught up with Lacey, who was just ahead of her.

  “Have you been here before?”

  “At Joey’s? Sure. Lots of times. ”

  “What goes on here?”

  Lacey squeezed her hand and laughed. “Relax, Ava. We’re just here to kick back and have some fun. You’ll see. ”

  Lacey moved off with Bo, leaving her—once again—until Rick moved up and swept his arm around her. “I won’t leave you alone. Don’t worry. ”

  “I’m not worried at all. ” And she wasn’t. Not about herself, anyway. She was more concerned about what Lacey had gotten herself involved in. That’s why she was here. Though she had to admit, having Rick’s arm around her wasn’t bad at all. He was tall, gorgeous, strong, and he smelled damn good. Like leather and soap and the outdoors. And he was fine to look at. Lacey could have stuck her with some ugly guy with a gross shaggy beard and butt crack hanging out of his pants. She counted her lucky stars that she’d managed a riding partner that looked like he could be a male model instead of some grizzled, greasy biker type.

  They went up to the house. By the time they made it in there, loud music was playing, the lights were blaring, there was a fire in the fireplace, and there was plenty of beer lined up in large metal buckets on the floor in the living room.

  The place was very rustic, all wood floors and paneling. Very little décor and Ava could tell immediately that this was a guy’s place. It had no feminine touches anywhere. No pictures on the wall and only a mounted deer’s head over the fireplace. And it was kind of a mess, though people just shoved things out of the way and no one seemed to care.
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