I need to kill Maria Rosa.

Of all the crazy, half-baked conclusions ever dreamed up by a guy with a head full of whiskey, this is potentially the very worst of them all. But even once we’ve cleared this mess up with the DEA, the crazy bitch is still gonna be pissed at me. The only permanent solution I can think of that will keep the club safe and prevent any more civilian deaths is that Maria Rosa must die.

When I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thing I’m thinking: Maria Rosa must die. Couple that with the fact that I have a raging case of morning glory and a fuzzy head, and things are not shaping up well.

“Oh my god. What the hell?” Sophia’s shocked voice really just finishes the whole thing off. I grab the sheet around my waist, making sure she’s not exclaiming at my raging hard on. She’s not. She’s sitting up on the other bed, hair crazy and sticking up at all angles, staring at the wall. When I ran out of space on the paper last night, I just started writing directly onto the wall. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I hope you didn’t leave a credit card at the front desk,” she says, rubbing her head with her hand.

“Alex owes me more than a wall,” I inform her. Bastard owes me his life. I climb out of bed and hit the bathroom, cupping my seriously painful erection in my hand, not caring if she sees now. Pissing is pretty much impossible. I give up after about four minutes and find her waiting on the other side of the bathroom door, like she’s been standing out there, listening.

She looks guilty, but only for a moment. Even with her hair standing up like she shoved her fingers in a power outlet and her skin smelling of stale whiskey, the girl is fucking hot. Can’t be denied. She pouts at me, placing her hands on her hips. “I could have run,” she says.

“Excuse me?”

“I could have run. You left me alone in here with the door unlocked, and I could have run.”

“How d’you know the door isn’t locked?”

“Because I just opened it,” she tells me.

“Huh.” She didn’t run. I don’t really know what to make of that. I haven’t exactly been the best kidnapper in the history of kidnappers; it would totally have served my ass right if she’d done a runner. “Should I be thanking you right now?”

“No. I’m just too hung over to even try it. You need to move the hell out of the way.” She shoves past me, elbowing her way into the small bathroom. From there, she pushes me out and locks the door behind her. My ears are greeted by the familiar sounds of someone who’s drunk too much the night before, throwing up as though their lives depended on it.

Neither of us are feeling particularly chatty on the remaining leg of the journey to Ebony Briars, the estate where I grew up. We stop for food once and a few more bathroom breaks so Sophia can rid herself of the remaining Lagavulin in her system. Aside from that, my foot is glued to the gas pedal, and the pedal’s glued to the motherfucking floor.

Five miles outside Grove Hill, Clark County, I pull over the Hummer and jump out of the driver’s seat into the dirt, my skin already itching with the need to fucking leave. Soph watches with curiosity as I pull the bag from the backseat, throw it on the hood and start undressing on the side of the road. “What the hell are you doing?” She leans through the open driver’s door, frowning at me. I’m down to my boxers by this point, standing on the side of the road, feet bare, boots thrown into the foot well. I scowl, yanking out a white button-down shirt from the bag, shaking it out. “I’m maintaining the illusion that my father’s only son isn’t a complete fucking reprobate.”

Sophia watches as I slide the shirt on, covering my tattoos, covering who I am, and all for the sake of peace. It’s always been this way. Ever since I was born. I may not have had ink all over my body back then, and I may not have worn clothes my father would consider common, but I’ve always adjusted the person I am on the inside. Truth be told, that’s far more complicated than throwing on a suit and covering the way I look. I’ve never been able to truly master the skill of not being me. Not being a disappointment. Hence all the arguing and the shouting, and the years of silence in between.

I catch Soph staring at me, her face half drawn into shadow as the light fades. “What?”

“Nothing,” she says, shrugging. “I just…I don’t know. I guess you seem too strong willed to be the guy getting changed on the side of the road is all.”

I give her a grim smile, flashing my teeth. “If my father thought for a second that I was involved in any form of criminal activity, he’d be the one to hand my ass over to the police. His precious career is far more important to him than his son’s freedom. Believe me, it’s in my interests, the club’s interests, for him to think I’m an blue-collar businessman.”

“So that’s what I should say? If he asks me anything?”

Poor Soph. She really has no clue how this is gonna work. There’s an excellent reason why I haven’t spent the past two days coaching her about how she’s to tell people we met. Who we are to one another. Why I’ve brought her along in the first place. “I wouldn’t worry about that, sugar. He’s not gonna ask you any questions.”

She looks confused, her eyebrows arching upwards. “Won’t he want you to introduce him to me or something?”

I pull on my suit pants, laughing bitterly. “No. No, he won’t give a fuck who you are, I’m afraid.”