Behold The Stars (Signal Bend #2)

By: Susan Fanetti
CHAPTER ONE




Isaac held the heavy bag while Lilli punched and kicked. She was doing well, her blows powerful and accurate. She was uncharacteristically leading with her left, since she was still wearing a brace on her right hand, having broken it a couple of months ago in a fight with an old nemesis—a fight that had almost cost her life. It had been just more than two weeks since she’d gotten the cast off, but Lilli worked hard to be strong and fit, and she’d hadn’t been able to tolerate any more “recuperation” time. Isaac had barely gotten her to agree to work out with him so he could be there if she hurt herself. In fact, that had been quite a battle, and he’d had to use his position as club President, setting terms. It hadn’t gone over well, but they’d gotten past it, and she’d finally agreed.

The clubhouse of the Night Horde Motorcycle Club was the only place remotely resembling a gym within probably fifty miles of Signal Bend, Missouri. For a variety of reasons, Lilli had been hesitant to work out in the clubhouse, or even visit, for that matter, but things were different now. She was officially his old lady. She’d even moved in with him after she’d gotten out of the hospital. And she’d agreed to marry him. Someday. When they could get the town safe again.

Signal Bend was one of those dying rural towns that peppered the Midwest. Too remote to be served and protected by the traditional business and legal apparatus, not remote enough to survive the commercial siphoning from exurban middle class strip-mall sprawl. The town had been starving to death until some of the townspeople started to cook meth. Now the meth trade was keeping the rest of the town alive. Isaac didn’t want that crap in his town, but there was no other way to keep the lights on. So the Horde worked with the cookers to get their product out of Signal Bend and into the cities to the northeast and southwest—St. Louis and Tulsa. The whole I-44 corridor was their turf.

Lawrence Ellis, a major player from Chicago, was trying to unseat the Horde and take over Signal Bend for his own production. He was setting up to make his move soon—any day now, probably. Until the Horde could deal with Ellis and the Northside Knights, the crew from St. Louis that was doing his bidding, Isaac and Lilli couldn’t seriously contemplate settling their personal life.

Isaac would be forty in a few months, and he’d never thought he’d have or even want a family beyond the Horde. He’d grown up in a hard home. Not a home at all. An abusive father, a suicide mother, a runaway sister. Until he met Lilli, he’d expected to live his life alone in the old farmhouse he’d grown up in. Now, though, he wanted it all—wife and children, a home, warm and full. He needed it. He hated that Lilli wanted to wait. He understood it, but he hated it. But she was with him, and for now that was enough. The rest would come in time. He had to believe that was true.

She backed off the bag and put her hands on her hips, her chest heaving. “Want to spar?”

That surprised him. She was ex-Army and well trained in hand-to-hand combat and self-defense, but he had ten inches and more than 150 pounds on her, and he had experience of his own. They’d never sparred before. “Nah, Sport. I don’t want to hurt you.”

She laughed, a saucy light in her bright grey eyes. “Oh, dude. That’s a challenge if ever I heard one. You think you can hurt me?”

“You think you’re 100%?” He turned a meaningful look to her braced hand.

“Close enough. Come on, biker man, you chicken?”

He didn’t want to hurt her. Still vivid in his memory, and in his dreams, was the image of her lying pale and weak in a hospital bed, depleted of more than half her blood, comatose for days. It hadn’t even been three months since then. But he couldn’t deny her. She was standing there in her tiny little black spandex shorts and her tight little bright green top, showing a lot of beautiful, muscled belly and basically all of her sleek, strong legs. Her grin was wide, and tendrils of her long, dark hair clung to her damp neck. She was about as sexy as she could be without being totally naked and writhing under him.

Which presented its own set of problems, and Isaac looked over to the side wall, the top half of which was all windows. The weight room had been the scheduling office when the clubhouse had been Signal Bend Construction, run by the Night Horde, and the windows looked into the main room, what was now known as the Hall. At the moment, just about everyone in the Hall was taking in the show. There was something for everyone: Lilli in her tiny workout clothes, Isaac bare-chested, wearing only a pair of black sweats. The Horde were trying to be circumspect about it, trying not to ogle the boss’s old lady so obviously as to be disrespectful. Not doing a great job of it, but at least trying. The girls, though, were standing right at the window, staring at him. A couple even had their hands on their hearts.

Lilli was the jealous type. Not crazy jealous, but territorial—quite a lot like he was, actually, though a bit slower to violence. She followed his glance to the window and saw their audience. With a smug, assertive grin, she walked up to him, reached up over his shoulder, grabbed his braid, and pulled his head to hers. He knew what she was up to, and as soon as she’d gotten close enough, he put his hands on her hips and pulled her against him.

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