Again, she was struck speechless. He made her sound like a breeding vessel, but somehow, the way he said it was too tempting to refuse. It was true. She expected the prez of a motorcycle club to screw around with every woman walking, to cheat, to abuse. It had terrified her when she knew what her father was planning. She expected to be a punching bag for a bunch of heathens. Was Forge a different beast or was she too naïve to see the truth?

She shrugged.

“Tell me what you want then, little one. You just turned twenty-four. You have some fantasy of marrying one of daddy’s hired hands? Maybe a nice accountant?”

This time she frowned. “I thought you wanted me to forget about my father?”

“That’s not an answer.”

Beth licked her lips. What would she even say? “I never really thought about what I wanted out of life. I just survived day to day. I’m used to walking on eggshells and saying what people want to hear. Thinking about fairy tales has always been a waste of time.”

“Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, understand? I may not agree with what you say, but I don’t want sugar-coated bullshit from you.”

She shifted on the edge of the bed, putting the book she was reading to the side. What did she have to lose? “I want to know what it feels like to be wanted,” she said, feeling stupid just saying the words. “I want a man who puts me first.”

“We’re practically strangers right now, I know that. But you’re mine, Beth, there’s no way around that. And you will be my old lady and the mother of my kids. Life here may not be flowers and rainbows, but I hope that one day you’ll be able to love me.” He turned his back to her and started rooting through the drawer of a dresser. She heard the jangle of keys.

“Love?”

Was a cold-hearted criminal even capable of empathy … of love? Her father said Forge made people disappear, that he had no conscience to speak of.

He twisted slightly to the side to get a look at her. “You’re not the only one looking for something you’ve never been given. Maybe one day you won’t see me as the monster who buys girls from their fathers.”

Once he finished dressing, he sat on a chair facing her and pulled on a pair of black shitkickers. He was the devil personified. So why did she crave his lips on hers?

He got up to leave and a rush of panic made her heart race. “Where are you going?”

“Do I answer to you now, Ms. Peterson?” He raised an eyebrow, one hand on the doorknob.

“Don’t call me that. Please.”

“It’s your name, no?”

“It’s my father’s name, so I want no part of it.”

Forge smiled. “Good girl.” He held out his hand, beckoning her to come.

Her cheeks flushed hot as excitement trickled through her veins. Beth approached him with caution.

“You want to come with me?”

She nodded without hesitation. The thought of sitting in his room, wondering who’d come in and find her there was a terrifying prospect. She only felt safe with Forge, and even that didn’t make sense.

“Stay close to me.”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. Beth followed right behind him as he walked down the long hallway. Every step he took screamed authority. Anyone would be a fool to stand up to a man like Forge. He was tall, his shoulders impossibly broad.

And she knew what he looked like without the shirt on.

There were a few men at the bottom of a staircase. The smell of smoke made her nose wrinkle. They stared at her like she had two heads. It was unnerving. If it weren’t for Forge, she would have run the other way.

“Hound fill you in about my girl?”

A couple of them shook their heads. “Haven’t seen him yet today,” said the biggest of the three. He nodded toward her. “She the one we picked up yesterday? What are we supposed to know?”

“She’ll be staying at the club on a permanent basis. I’m keeping her, and I’m going to get real fucking petty if one of you can’t keep your eyes or hands to themselves. Understand?”

“Sure, boss. Not a problem.”

The men didn’t look afraid, but it was also clear they wouldn’t dare disobey Forge.

“She has full protection of the club, too. Until we make things official, spread the word,” said Forge.

Beth hadn’t realized she’d balled the back of his shirt into her fists until he turned to look at her.

“You ready to go?”

She nodded, sticking to him like glue as they passed the thugs in the stairwell.

Beth took a deep breath of fresh air once they emerged outside from the main level. She hadn’t paid much attention to her surroundings yesterday. It had been dark and she’d been terrified beyond measure. Now she had a chance to look around. They were far off the grid, and the scent of pine infused in the air. She’d only ever lived in the core of the city, so this was different.

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