Someone cleared their throat behind him. Hound stood in the doorway to his forge. He’d built the barn-like structure behind the clubhouse years ago. It was his retreat, and his brothers knew not to bother him when he was inside.

“What’s up?” asked Forge, not looking him in the eye.

“There’s a chick in your bedroom. What are your plans for her? Everyone’s talking.”

Forge scowled. “Then shut them up. That’s your job, no?”

Hound shrugged. His enforcer was brutal as fuck, and Forge was almost certain he’d go to hell protecting the club. “I don’t give a shit, I just need to know. This about revenge or something more?”

“Something more.”

He felt tongue-tied. There were few secrets between him and his top men, but this was new and uncomfortable. Hound didn’t have an old lady, so he probably wouldn’t even understand if Forge tried to explain himself. If the prez started talking about shit like falling in love at first sight … it wouldn’t go over well.

Hound didn’t say anything. His enforcer walked inside the forge and picked up the cooled blade he’d been working on all morning. Holding it up to the light, he tilted it and examined the patterns in the Damascus steel.

“I’m not finished with it yet,” Forge said.

“This one will get you a good price. It’s a beauty.” He set it back down. “I’m riding out to Eagle Point this afternoon. You coming?”

He shook his head. “I won’t leave her alone yet.”

“So you’re keeping her?”

This time, he glared at his old friend. “I’m fucking keeping her, Hound. Don’t take any of this as a weakness. If anything, I’m more fucked up because of that girl. If anyone goes near her, it would be a serious mistake.”

“I better make sure the boys know.” Hound turned and left. One of their rival’s clubhouses was at Eagle Point. They’d been planning to send a message for weeks, and Forge had looked forward to a little bloodshed. This was his territory, and those bastards at the Point were getting too close for his liking. When Forge decided to make an example of his enemies, word traveled fast. He’d been fucked-up in the head since his teens. It was easy to embrace the darkness when he had nothing to live for and only a handful of memories that didn’t make him shudder.

He trusted Hound and Dog to handle things without him, but he knew he should be there as prez. It was time to get his head back in the game, which meant dealing with Beth Peterson.

After a shower in the basement gym, Forge stalled before heading back to his bedroom. He wore a pair of gray sweats, a towel slung around his neck as he ascended the staircase. He was forty-two and felt like an insecure teenager. In all his years, he’d never felt this unique tug from a woman. They’d all been nameless.

Emotions were for weak men. He hadn’t climbed to the top by being a pussy, and his reputation wasn’t based on goodwill or a heart of gold.

As soon as he opened the door, he half-expected the room to be empty. No woman wanted to be bought and sold, so he thought he’d have a constant battle on his hands keeping her in line. But there she was. Sitting on the edge of his bed, leafing through a book. She looked up at him with a mix of fear and anticipation in those big blue eyes.

His heart did a fucking flip.

“Why are you still here?” he asked.

She tilted her head a bit, staring without speaking.

“Do you always do what your father says?”

“I don’t have a choice. He made that clear before bringing me to you,” said Beth.

He opened his closet and pulled a t-shirt off a metal hanger. It clanged until he shut the door. Instead of putting it on, he balled it up in one hand. “And what do you think of all this? No … if you had a choice, where would you be right now?”

Forge almost didn’t ask the last question, not wanting to know the answer. As much as he could fantasize, Beth hadn’t walked into his life willingly.

“Sitting here. On your bed.”

He cocked an eyebrow.

“My father owed you a lot of money. More than I can even begin to imagine. You took me as a trade, whereas he gave me up without a second thought. Maybe I’m where I should be.”

“You’re right. This is exactly where you belong.” He squatted down in front of her. “You’re mine now, Beth. Not for a week or a month or a year. Forever.”

He waited for her to react, to cringe, something that would prove she hated everything about this fucked-up deal. But she swallowed hard, her eyes dilating briefly. Then she nodded.

So obedient.

There was a lot more to her than appearances.

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