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2016
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Outlaws 2
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PRAISE FOR ELLE KENNEDY’S KILLER INSTINCTS SERIES

			“Fans will be eager to see what Ms. Kennedy has in store for her mercenaries.”

			—Shannon K. Butcher

			“The entire series is a recommended read for those who enjoy romantic suspense with a dark, dangerous edge.”

			—Fresh Fiction

			“Takes readers on a terrific emotional roller-coaster ride full of relentless action, heated sexual tension, and nail-biting plot twists. . . . Breathless passion will leave the reader begging for more.”

			—Publishers Weekly

			“Each book has been suspenseful, heartbreaking, and full of sexy times.”

			—Fiction Vixen

			“As sexy as it is exciting. Elle Kennedy hits all the right notes in . . . her outstanding Killer Instincts series . . . spellbinding romantic suspense.”

			—Joyfully Reviewed

			“[Kennedy] shows a real flair for penning thrillers that are passionate, gritty, and extremely suspenseful.”

			—RT Book Reviews (top pick)

			“Seduction, sex, and suspense—Elle Kennedy is a master at blending all three . . . [The] Killer Instincts series is dark, sensual, and extremely compelling.”

			—Romance Junkies

			“This book embodied raw sexual chemistry and then took it up a few notches. Be careful when handling it, because you might get scorched!”

			—Under the Covers

			“Flat-out spectacular . . . a series filled with strong heroes and heroines, sinfully hot love scenes, and adrenaline-filled action.”

			—Wit and Sin

			“Elle Kennedy, please write faster!”

			—The Book Pushers





ALSO BY ELLE KENNEDY


			THE OUTLAWS SERIES

			Claimed

			THE KILLER INSTINCTS SERIES

			Midnight Rescue

			Midnight Alias

			Midnight Games

			Midnight Pursuits

			Midnight Action

			Midnight Captive

			Midnight Revenge





			SIGNET ECLIPSE

			Published by New American Library,

			an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

			375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

			This book is an original publication of New American Library.

			Copyright © Leeanne Kenedy, 2016

			Penguin Random House supports copyright; . Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

			Signet Eclipse and the Signet Eclipse colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

			For more information about Penguin Random House, visit penguin.com.

			eBook ISBN: 9780698190382

			PUBLISHER’S NOTE

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

			If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”





Version_1





Contents


			 				Praise for Elle Kennedy’s Killer Instincts Series

				Also by Elle Kennedy

				Title Page

				Copyright

				Chapter 1

				Chapter 2

				Chapter 3

				Chapter 4

				Chapter 5

				Chapter 6

				Chapter 7

				Chapter 8

				Chapter 9

				Chapter 10

				Chapter 11

				Chapter 12

				Chapter 13

				Chapter 14

				Chapter 15

				Chapter 16

				Chapter 17

				Chapter 18

				Chapter 19

				Chapter 20

				Chapter 21

				Chapter 22

				Chapter 23

				Chapter 24

				Chapter 25

				Special Excerpt from Ruled

				About the Author





1


			“I miss our house.” Sighing, Piper nestled her head against Lennox’s shoulder and curled one arm around his chest. “Are you sure it’s too dangerous to go back?”

			She’d been asking that same question for weeks now. Lennox was getting tired of answering it, but of all the people he’d extended his protection to over the years, Piper was one of the few he had a soft spot for. She’d turned twenty a few months ago, and despite the hard life she’d lived, her youth and innocence had been preserved. Well, maybe not the innocence—even as she voiced the question, her hand was drifting seductively toward Lennox’s waistband.

			“It’s too dangerous to go back,” he confirmed. Then he chuckled and intercepted her hand before it could slide inside his pants. “And what you’re doing is equally dangerous, love.”

			Her laughter warmed his ear. “Aw, come on, Lennox. How long are you going to hold out on me?”

			Hmmm. Probably until he could look at her without seeing the bedraggled sixteen-year-old who’d shown up at his doorstep four years ago. He’d been twenty-three, and lusting over a teenager hadn’t felt right. Sure, Piper had grown up since then, but it was still hard for him to reconcile the skinny kid he’d taken under his wing with the gorgeous woman she’d become.

			Which was ironic, because he had no problems lusting over his best friend, and he’d known her since they were both in diapers.

			As if on cue, a blond head across the room swiveled in his direction, and the object of his thoughts flashed him a mischievous wink. It was as if Jamie always knew when he was thinking about her, and he had the same sixth sense about her. Growing up together had created a bond between them. They knew each other inside and out.

			Though in a moment, another man would hold claim to the inside her part.

			He’d known it was bound to happen after he and Jamie moved to Connor Mackenzie’s camp. In a world filled with danger and uncertainty, it was important to form alliances, and Connor was a valuable ally to have. Lennox was damn grateful for the man’s assistance.

			Connor’s right-hand man, on the other hand . . . Lennox liked the guy, he really did, but Rylan’s flirtation with Jamie was starting to wear on his nerves.

			It was Rylan who was sprawled on his back right now, his chest bare as Jamie’s fully clothed body straddled his on the frayed couch. He reached up to cup Jamie’s breasts through her shirt, summoning a moan from her rosebud lips. Even though her blue eyes went hazy with pleasure, they stayed locked with Lennox’s.

			If any other woman were looking at him like that, all heavy-lidded and visibly turned on, Lennox would have sprinted over there and joined the party. But he knew Jamie wasn’t sending an invitation. She simply got off on being watched.

			Watching was all he was capable of doing anyway. Jamie had been his best friend for more than twenty years. She was the only person in this fucked-up world who he trusted implicitly, who he could confide in and count on. After everything they’d been through, their friendship was rooted in feelings. Respect, admiration, affection . . . all those pesky emotions were too dangerous to bring into a sexual relationship. Sex was fun, but it was complicated as hell when feelings were involved.

			And these days, life was already complicated enough.

			For twenty-seven years, Lennox had lived and struggled in the free land, labeled an outlaw by the Global Council that ruled the Colonies with an iron fist. In order to prevent another war and ensure that the remaining natural resources weren’t squandered, the council was all about population control and enforcing rigid restrictions on its citizens. If you didn’t live in one of the four council-run cities and follow their rules, then you were considered a threat.

			Lennox had never been too good at following rules. Except one: keeping his hands off his best friend. He’d already suffered too much loss. His parents, his friends, and now, thanks to an ambush by the Enforcers, his house. Jamie was important to him—he’d be damned if he lost her too.

			He shifted his gaze from Jamie and Rylan, focusing instead on the back corner of the barn, which was stacked to the rafters with furniture and other random junk. The rest of the room had been cleared out and cleaned, the large space empty save for a couple of couches and an assortment of ratty old armchairs.

			It was a far cry from the setup at the old place. Lennox didn’t want to depress Piper by admitting it, but he missed their house too. It was hard to consider any place “home” in the free land, but that cozy split-level had come damn close. He and Jamie had stumbled upon it after Enforcers ran them out of their camp on the coast. They’d fixed it up, scrubbed it down, and turned it into a place where other outlaws could come and bask in the little freedom they had left. Booze, sex, conversation. Simple joys, really, but thanks to the war that had devastated the globe forty years before, joy was hard to come by these days.

			“I’m serious,” Piper insisted, and then her lips brushed the side of his neck. “The sexual tension is killing me.”

			Lennox chuckled again. “Xander and Kade are in the lodge,” he told her. “I’m sure they’d be happy to help you relieve some tension.”

			She sighed again, her fingers absently tracing the raven tattoo on his forearm. “You’re no fun, Lennox. You never want to entertain me.”

			He reached out and tweaked a strand of her brown hair. “I’m not here to entertain you, love. I’m here to take care of you.”

			“Yeah, I guess that’s true.” Her voice softened. “And you’ve taken really good care of me, Len. I can never repay you for everything you’ve done.”

			“Seeing you happy and safe is the only repayment I’ve ever wanted,” he said gruffly.

			That got him another kiss—a loud smack on his cheek. “Ha, you’re such a softie. I don’t know why you bother acting like a badass all the time. Everyone can see right through you.”

			He could have corrected her, pointed out that he didn’t act like a badass—he was a badass. He’d killed. He’d stolen. He’d betrayed people he’d cared about. Because that was what it meant to be an outlaw—you did everything in your power to survive.

			Piper had never seen that side of him, the one that valued self-preservation above all else. He’d done his best to shield her from it, leaving her at home when he went out on supply runs, sending her away when he needed to put a bullet in someone’s head. He hoped to keep shielding her, but like with everything else in this world, he knew that was probably hoping for too much.

			“Anyway, since you insist on being mean to me, I’m going to track down Kade,” she added, hopping off the couch. “Night, Lennox.”

			“Night, love.”

			As she headed for the door, he fought the urge to go with her, reminding himself that she would be fine trekking through the camp in the dark. She was armed, and Connor and his men had secured the hell out of the wilderness resort. The huge property was hidden in the mountains, rigged with motion sensors and explosives, and monitored by security cameras, which trumped all other luxuries. If the generator was low on fuel, Connor ordered everything else to be powered down—lights, heat, anything would be sacrificed to keep the security system operational.

			Even so, it was hard for Lennox to accept that this place was truly safe. The Enforcers who policed the cities and searched the Colonies for outlaws were an ever-present threat, and one he never underestimated. Even when he was balls deep in a beautiful woman, he was still painfully aware that an Enforcer bullet could strike the back of his head at any moment. He just hoped those bastards had the decency to let him climax before they pulled the trigger.

			“Rylan,” Connor called from the door. A second later, the camp leader strode into the barn with a scowl on his face.

			Without missing a beat, Rylan untangled himself from Jamie, his scuffed boots hitting the barn floor as he rose to his full height.

			Lennox was impressed by the way Connor’s men obeyed him on instinct. The man was a natural-born leader and protector, even if he was a prickly asshole a lot of the time. Lennox knew that if anything ever happened to him, Con would protect Jamie and the girls, no questions asked.

			As Jamie’s companion abandoned her for his leader, Lennox saw a slight pout form on Jamie’s lips, but she didn’t voice a complaint. Con and his woman had been away from camp since dawn, and everyone had been on edge awaiting their return. The two of them had gone to see Reese, the leader of a small town several hours east, with whom both Connor and Lennox had a reluctant alliance.

			Reese was unpredictable on good days and downright vindictive on bad ones, so Lennox never knew what to expect when he paid a visit to her self-proclaimed kingdom.

			“I need you,” Connor barked at Rylan. Then he glanced Lennox’s way. “You too, if you’ve got the time.”

			Lennox rolled his eyes. “What else do I have going on?” He’d been bored to tears since he and the women joined up with Connor’s group.

			Before, they’d been surrounded by people. Nomads who stayed at the house for a while before traveling on, strangers who needed a bed for the night, friends from other outlaw communities in West Colony.

			Here, Connor discouraged visitors. He wasn’t keen on letting anyone leave the camp either, unless it was for a meeting with one of their allies, or a supply run. But they’d stocked up on enough shit to last them through the winter, so as far as Connor was concerned, there was no reason to step foot outside camp.

			Lennox, on the other hand, was itching for action. And sex. Christ, he needed a good lay. With Piper and Jamie off-limits, Layla was the only available woman at the camp, and though he’d screwed around with her several times already, he enjoyed a little variety in his life. He’d been tempted to finagle his way into Connor and Hudson’s bed, but the couple didn’t seem inclined to include anyone but Rylan in their bedroom activities.

			Fuckin’ Rylan. The man got to screw the delectable Hudson and the woman Lennox had fantasized about for years. Some guys were just born lucky.

			As he stood up, Jamie marched in his direction. Her pale blond hair fell over one shoulder, hovering right above her cleavage. She had fantastic tits—which she never failed to remind him of, probably because he’d spent a good portion of their adolescence ragging her about her flat chest. She’d had the last laugh, of course, transforming from a scrawny girl to a curvy, sexy-as-sin woman right before his eyes.

			Truthfully he would’ve screwed her back then, flat chest and all. Jamie had been his first crush. He sure as hell hadn’t been hers, though. She’d had all the boys in their camp panting over her, and she’d known just how to keep them wrapped around her little finger.

			“I want to come to this meeting,” she announced.

			Lennox smirked. “You weren’t invited.”

			“Screw that. We’re a team. I go where you go.”

			“Things are different now, love. You and I don’t run things anymore. Connor does.”

			Her blue eyes flashed. “Screw that,” she repeated.

			“You’re just pissed because you didn’t get to sit on Rylan’s dick.” He chuckled.

			That got him a hard slap on the arm. “I don’t care about Rylan’s dick right now. I just don’t want to be kept out of the decision-making process. Blind obedience isn’t my thing, Len.”

			She was right—she’d always had a mind of her own, and that was one of Lennox’s favorite things about her. The woman was outspoken, smart, and stubborn as fuck.

			“It’s not mine either,” he admitted. “But we’re playing by a new set of rules. Connor took us in, and now we’ve gotta do what he says.” He tipped his head. “Unless you want to take off on our own? Because I’ll do it, if that’s what you think we should do.”

			She went quiet for a beat. He could see her shrewd brain working. Then she raked one delicate hand through her hair and sighed. “Not this close to winter. If we want to find a new place, we’re better off waiting till spring.”

			He nodded. “Agreed. But that means we defer to Con until then. Ergo, you need to go to your cabin while I find out what he has to say.”

			“I hate it when you ergo me.”

			A grin sprang to his lips. “Bullshit. You love everything about me.”

			She responded with a grudging smile of her own. “Yeah. I do.” Then she reached around him and smacked him on the ass. “You better hustle, babe. Don’t want to keep our mighty leader waiting.”

			Lennox was still grinning to himself as he left the barn. Darkness instantly enveloped him, the smell of pine and earth filling his nostrils. The camp was too damn rustic for his liking, but hey, at least the cabins were clean and cozy, the security was top-notch . . . and Jamie was here.

			She was really the only thing that mattered, if he was being honest. He could be living in a volcano, inhaling ash and bathing in hot lava, and he’d be perfectly content with it as long as Jamie was by his side.





2


			Lennox tracked down Connor and Rylan to the front porch of Connor’s cabin, which was situated less than a hundred yards from the main lodge of the abandoned resort. One lit candle sat on the ledge of the porch, casting the occasional flicker of light over the shadowy backdrop of the mountains beyond the trees. Lennox had never liked the mountains. He preferred the coast, the salty scent of the ocean and the warm sand beneath his toes, but his days of living near the shore were long gone.

			The earthquakes that ravaged the globe after the war had left most of the coastal cities underwater. The ones still standing were in shambles and inhospitable, though according to Connor’s woman, the Global Council was apparently in the process of forming a new colony on the west coast.

			Speaking of Con’s woman, Hudson was perched on the edge of Connor’s chair, her long blond hair falling over one slender shoulder.

			Shit. Jamie wasn’t going to be pleased when she heard that Hudson was allowed at the meeting while she’d been excluded, but Lennox wasn’t surprised to see Hudson there. Connor didn’t let her out of his sight if he could help it.

			Hudson surprised him by hopping to her feet once Lennox reached the steps. “I’ll leave you boys to it.” She planted a kiss on Connor’s lips before straightening up. “I’m going to see what Jamie is up to.”

			As she sauntered off, Lennox couldn’t help checking out her tight ass, which earned him a low growl from Connor.

			He turned back, blinking innocently. “Your woman’s hot, Mackenzie. Men are gonna look.”

			Rylan grinned. “And some men are gonna touch.” He jerked a proud thumb at his own chest, triggering a snort from Connor.

			“Keep bragging and your touching days will be over.”

			Rylan mimicked Lennox. “Your woman’s hot, brother. Men are gonna brag.”

			Connor rolled his eyes before turning his attention to the figures that came up beside Lennox.

			“Hey,” Xander greeted the group. He clapped Lennox on the arm, then climbed the steps and hopped onto the railing. Lennox had known the bearded outlaw for years, long before Connor and his boys had moved to the area, and it still surprised him to see Xander among the group. He had no idea how Con had managed to convince the nomad to settle in one place.

			Kade walked up next, nodding at Lennox as he leaned against the railing next to Xander.

			Pike was last, propping his hip against the door, his surly gaze focused on Connor. “What does she want?”

			As usual, Pike got right to the point. The man never minced words.

			Connor ran a hand over the dark stubble lining his jaw. “You.”

			In a rare occurrence, Pike reacted like a normal person instead of the emotionless robot Lennox had grown accustomed to. The man’s eyebrows shot up, his mouth twisting in a frown. “Me?”

			“And him.”

			Connor nodded toward Rylan, who reacted like the sex-crazed fucker he was.

			“Hell yeah. She wants us to service her? Sign me up.” Playful blue eyes shifted to Pike. “I don’t mind sharing, but if you want to sit this one out, I won’t cry myself to sleep about it.”

			Lennox snickered. It was no secret that Rylan had been trying to get into Reese’s pants for a while now, but the woman was a total ballbuster and wanted nothing to do with the blond outlaw. Lennox wasn’t sure why, considering that Reese had no problem fucking everyone else, himself included.

			“She doesn’t want your dicks.” Connor looked unusually cheerful as he shot down Rylan’s hopes. “She wants your fists.”

			Pike’s frown deepened.

			“Foxworth’s having some trouble protecting itself,” Connor explained. “Two ambushes in the last three months.”

			“Enforcers?” Xander said sharply.

			Connor nodded. “One run-in with an Enforcer unit, and then a bandit attack not long after.”

			All the men sneered. Bandits were the lowest form of life in the Colonies. They were men without morals. They roamed the free land, robbing, raping, and generally posing a nuisance to the outlaws who were trying to make a life for themselves in this shitty world.

			Lennox hesitated for a beat before speaking up. He still wasn’t sure how much to confide in the group—all the secrets he knew would take years to divulge—but now that he was living at their camp, he didn’t feel right withholding certain pieces of information.

			“Reese has deals in place with the Enforcers, Con. She bribes them and they stay away. Why would they attack her town all of a sudden?”

			Connor didn’t look surprised by the intel. “I guess those alliances are on shaky ground. Shit’s changed since Commander Ferris took over the unit.”

			“What does she need us to do?” Gone was the mischievous look in Rylan’s blue eyes. He was all business now, hard and menacing.

			“Train her people. Only a handful of them know how to fight. Most can’t even shoot a weapon.” Connor leaned back in his chair, looking unhappy. “She wants you and Pike to spend a few weeks in Foxworth and work with her people, show them everything you taught all those recruits back when you two were still part of the army group.”

			Pike didn’t look thrilled by the idea. “Can we say no?”

			Connor’s voice roughened. “She lent us her chopper so we could rescue Hudson from the Enforcer compound last month. We owe her.”

			“Then give her something else,” Pike grumbled. “I’ve got better ways to spend my time than to teach a bunch of clumsy hacks how to shoot a gun.”

			“This is what she wants. It’s all she wants. Trust me, I tried to negotiate, but she wasn’t having it.”

			Rylan interjected. “Hey, it’s not the worst favor she could’ve asked for.” He turned to Pike with a careless grin. “A few weeks at Foxworth, sparring during the day and screwing at night? Not a terrible gig.”

			Pike still looked unconvinced.

			“What’s the real deal here?” As always, Connor seemed to read his man’s mind. His sharp gaze fixed on Pike, who responded with a stiff shrug. But Connor was like a dog with a bone. “You don’t want to go. Why?”

			Lennox watched in fascination as the most tight-lipped bastard he’d ever met caved under Connor’s shrewd hazel gaze.

			“Don’t want to leave Hope,” Pike muttered.

			There was a beat of silence. Then a loud snort from Xander, who’d just lit a cigarette from his perch on the railing.

			Connor was equally dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? You want us to face Reese’s wrath just so you can stick around here and hang out with your fucking pet?”

			Lennox swallowed his laughter. The pet in question had caught him by surprise when he first showed up at the camp. Apparently Hudson and Pike had found themselves a wolf pup, who they were now raising and teaching to do their bidding. To Lennox’s amazement, Pike was scarily gentle with the furry beast, and it was rare to see the man around camp without Hope scampering at his scuffed boots.

			“She’s in training,” Pike said tightly. “If I leave, it’ll screw up the routine we have going.”

			“Hudson knows the routine—she’s been doing it with you,” Connor pointed out. When Pike shrugged again, the leader cursed. “Is this seriously going to be an issue?”

			After a beat, Pike swore under his breath. “Fine. I’ll go.”

			“Damn right you will.” Connor shifted his exasperated gaze to the railing. “You too, Kade.”

			The dark-haired man looked startled. “Why me?”

			“Because you fight like shit,” Connor said bluntly. “Wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your hand-to-hand combat skills.”

			Kade nodded in resignation. He was only twenty-four and looked it, with his lean frame and boyish features. The guy had been living in West City up until he escaped a little over a year ago, and he’d yet to develop the hard edge that the other men possessed. That every outlaw possessed.

			In all honesty, Lennox wasn’t sure what Kade really offered to the group. Xander had vouched for him, though. And the first time Xan brought Kade to Lennox’s house, Lennox had watched the city boy tag-team a curvy blonde with Xan as if he’d been in the free land for years.

			“I’m going too, then,” Xander said immediately.

			“No.” Connor’s tone invited no argument. “I need you here.”

			Xander’s features tightened.

			Lennox didn’t claim to be a mind reader like Connor, but he was perceptive enough to figure out the reason for Xander’s unhappiness. Kade was still green, and Xander had taken the guy under his wing. Someone would need to look out for Kade at Foxworth, but neither Rylan nor Pike was up for the job. The former would be too busy chasing pussy, while the latter would no doubt find a shadowy place to hole up in and avoid any social contact.

			Connor yet again proved to be the leader Lennox always knew he was by saying, “Lennox will go and keep Kade company.”

			Lennox raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t used to other people making decisions for him, but he decided not to argue. He could use the change of scenery. Besides, the way Xander’s shoulders relaxed told him the man would appreciate it if he went along.

			“No problem,” he said easily.

			Connor looked pleased. “Good, then we’re all on board.” He rose from his chair and addressed the group. “You leave tomorrow night.”





3


			“Seriously. What’s the deal with you and Lennox? You’re really not sleeping together?”

			Jamie wiggled out of her jeans and turned to grin at Hudson, who was sitting cross-legged on the twin bed in Jamie’s cabin. No matter how many times she insisted that she and Lennox were simply friends, Hudson still raised the subject every time the two women were alone together.

			“Nope, not sleeping together.” Jamie folded her jeans and carefully placed them in the top drawer of the weathered dresser.

			Lennox always teased her about her need to maintain tidiness and order, but it wasn’t a compulsion or anything. So many things in this world were out of her control, but this was one thing she could control. Putting away her clothes, eliminating clutter.

			Stupid as it might be, Jamie equated living out of a backpack with admitting defeat—it was like saying it was inevitable that they’d be forced to run again.

			Fuck, she was tired of running. Her entire childhood had been one frantic getaway after the next, a constant cycle of packing up and moving somewhere new. Sometimes, if the Enforcers were breathing down their necks, packing wasn’t even an option.

			There had been times when Jamie was tempted to beg her parents to surrender to the council and move to the city. Because really, the people in West City lived a good life for the most part. Everyone was assigned a job suited to his or her skills. They were given clean, spacious accommodations. They ate well-rounded meals in the dining halls and had lots of free time to socialize and roam the city.

			For the majority of citizens, all those perks were appealing enough to allow them to overlook the truth—that they were living in an oppressive environment, wrapped up in a pretty package under the guise of freedom.

			Jamie’s parents had reminded her of that each time she cried about abandoning camp, and it was a reminder she clung to whenever life got too hard. The citizens weren’t free. How could they consider themselves free when they were unable to leave the city gates without written permission and an Enforcer escort? When marriages needed to be approved by the council, or outright arranged if a citizen remained unmarried by the age of thirty-five? When girls were sterilized when they reached childbearing age, except for those chosen to breed?

			Thinking about the breeding laws always resulted in sending a chill up Jamie’s spine. She couldn’t stomach the notion of being sterilized against her will. Having the right to bear a child stolen away from her . . . that alone was enough to make her want to burn West City to the ground.

			“But . . . why not?”

			Jamie snapped out of her thoughts. “Why not what?”

			“Why aren’t you sleeping together?” Hudson repeated.

			“Because we’re friends.”

			“So? Rylan is my friend, and I sleep with him.”

			The remark wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but Jamie couldn’t fight the pang of resentment it evoked. It was no secret that Connor and Hudson fooled around with Rylan sometimes. And although Jamie knew it shouldn’t make her jealous, it did, damn it.

			From the moment she’d met the sexy blond outlaw, she’d come to think of him as hers. Which probably wasn’t fair to Rylan or the women he slept with, but Jamie’s heart was as stubborn as the rest of her.

			It also didn’t help that Hudson was drop-dead gorgeous and had landed one of the sexiest men in the colony. Jamie couldn’t deny she’d fantasized a time or two about Connor’s intense eyes and rock-hard body, but at the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to hate Hudson. The woman was fun to be around, and she’d been nothing but kind to Jamie since they’d met.

			Still, sometimes Jamie wanted to shake her by the shoulders and say share the wealth, girl.

			“Lennox and I aren’t like that,” she said absently. “We never have been.”

			“Never?” Hudson looked doubtful. “Haven’t you known each other for years?”

			“Since we were kids. Our parents were friends, and Len and I grew up together in an army camp.”

			“Wait—was the People’s Army still around at that point?”

			“No, it was officially disbanded five years after the war. But unofficially it was around for years after that. Even now there are groups who still keep trying to drum up support for a new People’s Army.”

			“I hope they get it.”

			Jamie couldn’t hide her surprise. “You realize that could mean another revolution against the council? Which means your brother might get caught in the cross fire.”

			“Not if he leaves the city first.” Determination lit Hudson’s gray eyes. “I’m working on making that happen.”

			This time, Jamie made an effort to mask her reaction. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the fact that Hudson’s twin brother, Dominik, was the head Enforcer of West Colony. Dominik and his men had been feared and vilified by outlaws for as long as Jamie could remember. They were known to be ruthless sons of bitches, and they’d only gotten worse over the past couple of years.

			According to Jamie’s parents, when the Enforcer unit had been formed after the war, the initial goals had been to protect the citizens, police the Colonies, and round up outlaws. The Surrender Law had been put into effect, which meant that outlaws were offered the choice to reintegrate into society or else face execution.

			But with a new commander leading the military now, things had changed. The Surrender Law had been abandoned. Now outlaws were killed on sight.

			Hudson claimed that the rising violence among the Enforcers was due to a drug cocktail the commander was giving the men, but Jamie was skeptical. Those assholes had always been violent, and she had trouble sympathizing with Hudson whenever the woman spoke about Dominik. If it were up to Jamie, he and his men would all be wiped off the face of this razed, blackened earth.

			“I know you don’t like hearing about him.” Hudson shifted awkwardly, proving to be more perceptive than Jamie had given her credit for. “But he’s my brother. I still love him.”

			“I know.”

			“He’s trying to make things right.”

			Jamie didn’t answer, but her thoughts on the matter hung between them like a cloud of radiation. I’ll believe it when I see it.

			Hudson sighed. “Okay, enough about Dom and more about Lennox.” She flashed a smile, but it looked forced. “So you’ve known him forever and you never got together. Which raises the question . . . why? You do realize he’s insanely attractive, right?”

			“I hadn’t noticed.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course I know he’s attractive, you idiot.”

			The tension dissolved as Hudson burst out laughing. “Good, because I would’ve been concerned if you didn’t. That man is fucking gorgeous.”

			No argument there. Lennox was one of the sexiest men she’d ever met. That messy dark hair, chiseled features, magnetic silver eyes . . . Shit, and his body? It had been designed for pure sin. Jamie would have to be blind not to notice how attractive her best friend was.

			If she was being honest, there was a period of time when she’d noticed far, far too often.

			“Uh-oh, you’re blushing.” Hudson pounced instantly. “Ha! You two did hook up!”

			“We didn’t.” She shrugged. “But I wanted to at one time.”

			“I knew it!” Hudson leaned back on her elbows, wearing an expression of sheer delight. “When was that?”

			“When I was sixteen, I think. So Lennox would have been eighteen. We were living on the coast at that point, and one night—it was late, way past midnight—I caught Lennox sneaking away from camp. I was curious, so I followed him down to the beach.” Jamie wiggled her eyebrows. “And then I hid behind a tree and watched him jerk off.”

			Hudson hooted. “Oh gosh, really? Did he know you were there?”

			“I don’t think so. I mean, he didn’t give any indication that he knew. But holy shit, it was the hottest thing I’d ever seen,” she admitted.

			Even now, years after the fact, she could easily conjure up the memory of Lennox on that beach. His long body stretched out on the sand as he propped himself up on one elbow. His pants undone. The pleasure stretching his features taut as his strong hand worked his cock in slow, almost seductive strokes.

			Jamie ignored the shiver of heat that shimmied up her spine. “After that, I lusted hard for him. I started flirting with him more, trying to catch his interest.” She gave another shrug. “But he continued to treat me like a sister, so yeah, it was pretty clear he wasn’t interested. Then I fell in love with this other boy at camp and forgot all about Lennox.”

			“Well, that’s no fun.” Hudson’s disappointment was unmistakable.

			“It was better that way. Lennox never stuck with one girl for very long. He just fucked her and then moved on to the next one. Trust me, he would’ve broken my heart. At least this way I still had him in my life.”

			“I guess.”

			Jamie grinned as another memory surfaced. “He was such an ass sometimes, though. He might not have wanted to screw me, but he was crazy protective and liked to make my life difficult. That boy I was into? Lennox beat the shit out of him after he found us making out in the woods. Then I fell for this other guy who treated me terribly, and Lennox pounded on him too. Oh, and I was in love with this older guy for a while—poor thing used to crap his pants when Lennox was around, which was hilarious because this guy was five years older. But Lennox had a reputation by then for watching out for me.”

			Hudson snickered. “It sounds like you’ve been in love a lot.”

			She considered it. “I guess I have. I tend to fall hard for people. And super fast.”

			“I’d never been in love before Connor,” Hudson confessed. “But I fell fast for him too.”

			“Of course you did. That man is smoking hot.” Jamie pulled her shirt over her head, then unclasped her bra as she searched for something to sleep in.

			It wasn’t until she glimpsed the slight flush on the other woman’s cheeks that Jamie realized her nudity was the source of Hudson’s discomfort. She always forgot that Hudson still wasn’t used to the lack of modesty in the free land. But Jamie had stopped being modest a long time ago. Growing up in a camp full of people and having to share quarters more often than not had pretty much erased any shyness or self-consciousness she might’ve felt. “Oops, sorry. I keep forgetting you’re from the city.”

			“Oh, it’s all right. I don’t know why it still surprises me.” Hudson’s cheeks turned redder. “By the way, that visit to Foxworth? I have never seen so many naked bodies in one room before.”

			Jamie laughed. “Reese hosted a party for you, huh?”

			“Yep. We didn’t stay long, though. Connor wanted—” She stopped abruptly, then grinned. “Well, you know what he wanted.”

			“I can imagine.” And only imagine, because although Connor had been a frequent visitor to the whorehouse, Jamie had never had the pleasure of sleeping with him.

			Sparing the other woman from seeing her bare tits, Jamie turned away and slipped an oversize T-shirt over her head. It was one of Lennox’s, with a huge hole on the sleeve, but it was soft and worn and her favorite shirt to sleep in.

			“What’d you think of Reese?” Jamie asked. She knew that most women found the reigning queen of Foxworth incredibly intimidating.

			Hudson surprised her by saying, “I liked her. She’s smart. Calculating. Looks like she knows how to get shit done. Well, I guess she must, since they’ve been living in that town for years and the Enforcers have left them alone.” She paused. “Until recently, anyway.”

			Jamie’s spine stiffened. “Is that what Reese said? Enforcers have been sniffing around and causing trouble?”

			The blonde nodded. “I’m sure Lennox is going to tell you all about it after he’s done with Con, but I might as well fill you in now. Reese wants Rylan and Pike to go to Foxworth for a while to train her people how to fight. There were some attacks on Foxworth, and now everyone is on guard.”

			Rylan was leaving?

			It annoyed Jamie that her first thought was about Rylan leaving, and not concern for the people of Foxworth. “When are they going?”

			“Soon, I imagine. I’m sure Connor and the others are figuring out the details now.”

			But clearly they’d already finished, because a sharp knock sounded on the door, followed by Lennox’s deep voice. “Jamie. Need to talk to you.”

			Hudson slid off the bed as the door swung open. She greeted Lennox with a smile, then squeezed Jamie’s arm and flitted out the door.

			The moment they were alone, Jamie narrowed her eyes at Lennox. His serious expression told her everything she needed to know. “You’re going with them.”

			He nodded.

			She nodded back. “All right. When do we leave?”

			A pained look crossed his features. “You’re not coming with us.”

			“Are we really starting up this bullshit again?” She flopped down on the edge of the bed and crossed her arms. “I deferred to you about the meeting, but you’re not going to win this one. I go where you go.”

			It was the pact they’d made when they were kids, and each of them had spoken those words time and again over the years.

			“We’ll be gone for weeks, love. And Foxworth is apparently taking some heat from Enforcers. I’d rather you stayed here where it’s safe.”

			She lifted her chin in defiance. “No.”

			“Jamie—”

			“No,” she repeated. “I’m coming with you.”

			“What about Piper and Layla?” he countered. “You’re perfectly okay leaving them alone?”

			“Connor and Hudson will be here to watch over them. I told you, Len—you can’t win.” She shrugged. “Besides, this training thing could be useful for me. It’s been a while since I got in any target practice.”

			Lennox snorted. “You can shoot better than anyone I know, Pike and Rylan included.”

			He had her there. The adults at the camp they’d grown up in had made sure every single child knew how to shoot a weapon. Jamie and Lennox used to take their rifles into the woods and set up targets, and by the time she was seven years old, she could blow a glass bottle right out of the sky while both she and the target were in motion.

			“Fine, then I’ll work on honing my combat skills.” She refused to back down. “Either way, I’m going with you.”

			A crease of unhappiness dug into his proud forehead, but Jamie knew he was close to capitulating. Lennox didn’t like letting her out of his sight and they both knew it. And that was fine by her. His overprotective bullshit annoyed her sometimes, but when it came down to it, she and Lennox were a team and always had been.

			“Fine,” he grumbled. “You can come.”

			She snickered. “You say that as if you’re giving me permission. But sure, you can keep thinking you’re in charge if it makes you feel better.”

			His lips quirked in an exasperated smile. Then he walked over to the bed and captured her chin with one big hand before dipping his head to kiss her cheek. “Night, love. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

			The soft brush of his warm lips on her skin made her smile. Lennox was always so tender with her, which was ironic, considering that it was no secret that he liked rough sex. Jamie had seen him pound into women with fervor, use his lips and hands and teeth to let out his sexual aggression.

			She was one of the rare people who got to experience the gentle Lennox. The sweet Lennox. She would’ve missed out on that if the two of them had gotten sexually involved, because going to bed with Lennox would’ve come with a choice: sex or friendship.

			Times like these, when he ran a tender hand over her cheek and gazed at her as though she meant the world to him, she was glad she’d never been forced to make that choice.


* * *

			Rylan could tell that Connor had more to say. While the other men headed off in different directions, he remained on the porch, studying his best friend’s serious eyes.

			Usually Con was a lot harder to read, but tonight he was conveying his unease as clearly as the neon lights that had once lit up city billboards. Rylan remembered being shown a picture of a place called Vegas when he was a kid, and how his eyes had grown larger than saucers when he saw all those lights, shining bright even at night.

			Nowadays, nights were shrouded in darkness unless you were lucky enough to find a place with a generator or access to the power grid. Or if you lived in the city, where modern conveniences were given freely to the citizens who toed the line.

			“What’s on your mind?” he asked the camp leader.

			Connor rose from his chair and joined Rylan at the railing. He stared into the dark forest for a moment, opened his mouth, then closed it when soft footsteps sounded from the path on their right.

			They both turned to find Hudson approaching the cabin. “I’m exhausted,” she announced as she climbed the steps. “You coming to bed?”

			Connor gave a brisk nod. “Give me a second, sweetheart. I need to talk to Ry.”

			“Don’t take too long.” She glanced at Rylan. “You’ve got five minutes and then I’m dragging him inside. He’s exhausted too, but he’ll never admit it.”

			“Of course not. We’re men, baby. We can never admit to having anything less than go-all-night stamina.” Rylan waggled his eyebrows at her.

			Laughing, she stepped closer and threw her arms around him in a tight hug. “Night, Ry.”

			Rylan squeezed her back, planting a kiss on the top of her head. The other man watched the exchange without a hint of jealousy in his eyes. He turned into a possessive asshole whenever anyone showed interest in Hudson, but never around Rylan. Maybe Connor was confident that Rylan would never try to steal his woman. Or maybe Con just suspected what Rylan had never voiced out loud—that he had no interest in settling down. Ever.

			Either way, it didn’t matter why his friend trusted him. He enjoyed his visits to their bed, and as long as Con was willing to share Hudson, Rylan was happy to accommodate them.

			The moment Hudson was inside the cabin, Connor finally voiced his thoughts. “Reese is lying to me.”

			“Huh. Okay.” Rylan’s gaze sharpened. “You think there weren’t any attacks on Foxworth?”

			“No, the attacks were real. I spoke to her people. They confirmed it.”

			“They could have been lying too. You know everyone there follows Reese’s lead.” Which never failed to get him hard, seeing the power Reese wielded over her people.

			Something about that woman turned Rylan on something fierce. He found it insanely bothersome that she didn’t return the interest. He could rock the woman’s world, if she’d just let him.

			Connor was shaking his head. “I know when I’m being lied to. Her people were telling the truth. She wasn’t.” His hands curled over the wooden ledge, frustration etched into his features. “Her request for training . . . something about it sounded off.”

			“What do you think she’s up to?”

			“No clue, but there’s definitely something brewing in Foxworth.” Con shrugged. “I need you to find out what it is.”

			Rylan offered a rueful grin. “If you need to me to set up some kind of honey pot operation—or would it be honey dick?—then you might be shit out of luck. My natural charisma doesn’t work on that woman.”

			The other man chuckled. “Guess you’ll have to dip into your other bag of tricks, then. I don’t care how you get the intel, just get it done. I’m not happy about sending people to Foxworth when I know Reese is cooking something up.”

			“I’ll do what I can,” he promised.

			“Good, now I should probably get inside before Hudson comes out and—”

			A loud crash sounded from the vicinity of the trees. In a heartbeat, both men had their guns out of their waistbands and aimed at the dark forest. Since the entire camp was rigged with trip wires, Rylan tensed, expecting an explosion to light up the sky at any moment, but the night went silent again.

			Frowning, Connor slid the radio out of his belt. “Xan, you at the lodge?”

			A static-ridden response came back. “Yeah.”

			“Check the cameras in the east woods. We heard a crash.”

			There was a long beat of silence, then, “Think it was a branch. A few of those dead trees we need to cut down took a beating during the thunderstorm the other night. I’m seeing lots of branches on the ground.”

			Connor relaxed. “Gotcha. Thanks.”

			They kept their weapons trained for several more seconds before lowering them. It probably had been a fallen branch, Rylan decided. The chances of anyone sneaking into the camp without setting off one of the motion sensors or explosives were pretty damn slim.

			Tucking his gun away, Connor headed for the cabin door, then halted when he realized Rylan was still at the railing. He slanted his head and said, “You coming in or what?”

			Rylan barked out a laugh. “Your woman’s tired.”

			A wicked gleam entered Connor’s eyes. “Yeah, but nothing puts her to bed faster than a screaming orgasm. Been a while since we gave her one.”

			Rylan’s dick was hard in a nanosecond. Yeah, it’d been a couple of weeks since he and Connor tormented Hudson’s sweet, delectable body.

			Jamie had already gone to bed, so it probably wouldn’t be gentlemanly if he woke her up to finish what they’d started in the barn. But damn, he could use a good lay right now. Orgasms were one of the few rewards in this dangerous, fucked-up world. Made living in it a bit more tolerable.

			With a grin, he gave Connor a slap on the shoulder. “Lead the way, brother.”





4


			The group gathered in the courtyard the next evening after the sun had set. While the men loaded gear into the Jeep, Jamie hugged Layla and Piper good-bye before pulling Hudson aside.

			She checked that the other women were out of earshot, then said, “Take care of them for me.”

			“I will,” Hudson promised.

			“And keep an extra eye on Piper. Girl’s as stubborn as a mule, and she doesn’t always follow orders.”

			The blonde grinned. “Don’t worry. I’m used to dealing with stubborn asses.” She cocked a head toward Connor, who was issuing some last-minute orders to Pike.

			Jamie snickered, and the sharp sound startled the one-month-old wolf pup at Hudson’s feet. “Aw, wolfie, don’t be scared.” She knelt down and patted Hope’s soft head. When a pair of eerie blue eyes peered up at her, a shiver ran up Jamie’s spine. “Jesus, her eyes freak me out.”

			Hudson scooped up the wolf and nuzzled her dark fur. “Don’t say that. You’ll give her a complex.”

			That triggered another snicker. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but . . . you and Pike are fucking insane. You realize she’s a wolf and not a person, right?”

			“Agree to disagree.”

			Hudson stuck out her tongue, then ambled off toward Connor and Pike. The latter plucked the furry bundle from Hudson’s arms and whispered something in Hope’s tiny ear. Which only made Jamie gape, because, really? The man barely said a word to the human beings around him, but he was whispering sweet nothings to a wolf?

			An engine roared to life behind her. She spun around to find Lennox straddling his Harley. “You riding with me or in the Jeep?”

			Jamie hesitated. Pike was now straddling his own bike, which left Rylan alone at the Jeep, tossing gear inside. She glanced back to Lennox, who seemed to already know the answer.

			“Gotcha,” he said dryly.

			For some stupid reason, she found herself on the defensive. “It’s a long drive. Figured I’d ride in comfort so I don’t show up to Foxworth with a sore ass.”

			Lennox smirked. “You and Ry alone in a car for five hours? Bet you’ll still be showing up at Foxworth with a sore ass, love.”

			She gave him the finger, but he just laughed and started the engine. A moment later the powerful machine disappeared down the path.

			Lennox had been mocking her about her crush on Rylan for more than a year, though she supposed she deserved it. She was twenty-five years old, too damn old for girlish crushes, but . . . damn it, Rylan was sexy as hell, not to mention the most likable man she’d ever met.

			She headed for the Jeep and threw her duffel bag in the back. When Kade came up beside her, she battled a spark of disappointment. She thought he’d be on one of the motorcycles.

			Just when she’d resigned herself to riding alone in the backseat, the dark-haired man beat her to the door. “Mind if I sit back here? Xan and I were fixing the barn roof all day and I want to stretch out and sleep.”

			“It’s all yours.” She gestured to the torn seat.

			Kade climbed into it, then rested his head on one of their bags and closed his eyes.

			She and Kade were around the same age, but she didn’t know him well. He’d been part of Connor’s group for a year or so, but there was something seriously haunted about his dark eyes, as if he hadn’t quite left the city behind him.

			“Ready?” Rylan’s deep voice sounded from behind her.

			She walked up to the passenger’s side. “Yep.” She was more than ready, actually. Sitting up front with Rylan for the five-hour drive? Hell yeah.

			He grinned as he slid behind the wheel. “You’re the sexiest copilot I’ve ever had,” he drawled.

			The compliment brought an uncharacteristic flush to her cheeks. Damn it. She was so gone for this man.

			Pike signaled something to Rylan before speeding off on his Ducati, and the Jeep quickly followed suit. Rylan kept the headlights off as he steered down the long path winding along the mountain.

			Jamie wholly approved of the location of their camp. The entrance to the main road was overgrown with foliage, and Connor and his men had removed any road signs that had once directed visitors to the resort. The place was completely hidden from view, high enough on the mountain and shielded by forest so that nobody on the road could see the lights in the cabin and main lodge.

			But while the isolation boded well for safety, it got to a person after a while. She was looking forward to being at Foxworth and interacting with people again. It was rare for large groups of outlaws to congregate in one place, but Reese’s town had a population of nearly eighty, at last count.

			As they followed the motorcycles down the dark, quiet road, she and Rylan chatted for a bit, then settled into silence as he loaded a CD, which was another rarity. Jamie hardly ever got a chance to listen to music, but the Jeep had an older-model CD player that miraculously still worked, and she leaned back in her seat as music floated out of the speakers. They were three songs into the album when she realized how depressing the music was, chock-full of twangy guitar and lyrics about heartbreak and misery.

			“Are you trying to depress me?” she teased.

			He chuckled. “Pike and I stole this Jeep when we were making our way out of the south. Damn thing only had three CDs in the glove box. This one is the most uplifting, believe it or not.”

			“Does this music have a name?” she asked curiously.

			“Country.” He shrugged. “It’s not terrible, but I’ve listened to this shit so many times it’s a miracle my ears haven’t exploded.”

			They went quiet again as the singer crooned about his lady and a trailer and a field of buckwheat. After thirty minutes, the album ended and Jamie swiftly intercepted Rylan’s hand before he could load the next one.

			“Oh my God. No more!” she begged. “I’m ready to hang myself here.”

			“Fine, then as my copilot, you need to entertain me in other ways so I don’t pass out like this asshole back there—” He jerked a thumb at Kade, who was out like a light. “Know any games?”

			“I know all kinds of games.” She winked at him.

			Rylan’s blue eyes instantly smoldered. His tongue came out to moisten his bottom lip, and it was so sexy it sent a bolt of heat right to her core.

			“Yeah?” he prompted, those eyes continuing to gleam.

			“Oh yeah.”

			She slid closer and rested her hand on his groin, shivering when she felt him hardening beneath her palm. She gave a slight stroke, and his hands tightened around the steering wheel. Another teasing stroke, and a groan escaped his lips.

			Rylan rocked his hips and thrust into her hand. “Fuck, baby, you’re killing me. Undo my pants.”

			Feminine power. It was a heady thing.

			Jamie had been fourteen when she realized how much power a woman truly possessed. The men at her camp, her father included, were the toughest, baddest dudes she’d ever known. They hunted to feed the group, fought off bandits and Enforcers, did everything they could to keep everyone safe. The women had been equally tough, but with young children in the camp, the role of caretaker naturally fell to the females.

			To Jamie it had always seemed that the men commanded more power—until the day she’d kissed a boy for the first time and watched him turn into a puddle of mush at her feet. In that moment, the toughest boy she’d ever met would have done anything for her. Ripped the shirt off his back to keep her warm, walked on hot coals to keep her safe, stepped in front of a bullet to keep her alive.

			In a world where you had to utilize every skill in your repertoire, the realization that sex and seduction could be used as a tool had been a goddamn eye-opener.

			But she didn’t have an agenda at the moment. She didn’t want to use Rylan or persuade him into doing something for her. She just wanted him. Period.

			Smiling, she slowly dragged his zipper down and slid her hand inside his pants. He jerked when she curled her fingers around his heavy shaft, then moaned when she dipped her head and brought her tongue out for a taste.

			Keeping one hand on the wheel, Rylan threaded the other one through her hair and choked out, “I like this game.”


* * *

			It was midnight when they finally neared their destination. About a mile out of Foxworth, Lennox slowed the bike and conducted his usual sweep of the area. He’d been there numerous times and had never encountered any trouble before, but he’d be a fool to take the seemingly secure surroundings at face value. The West City Enforcers were well trained—they knew how to remain invisible, and they excelled at biding their time until the opportunity for an ambush presented itself.

			But there was no trouble to be had tonight. A sharp whistle from Pike confirmed that the area was clear, and Lennox sped up toward the huge steel gates surrounding the little town. On the east end of the main gate was a raised landing to accommodate an armed guard, who monitored all arrivals. Another guard manned the back gate, while several others patrolled the perimeter. It was a twenty-four-hour security detail, and every guard reported directly to Reese.

			Lennox stopped in front of the gate, which was over ten feet high. Reese’s group had laid claim to Foxworth about four years ago; it had taken nearly half that time to erect the gates, which had involved hauling in sheets of metal from nearby factories and shipyards in order to complete the project. He wholly approved of their efforts. As much as he’d loved his old house, he’d never felt entirely safe there. At Foxworth, he always felt safe, which was all sorts of fucked-up, because he knew damn well that safety was nothing but an illusion.

			The dark-clad figure standing above the entrance trained his rifle at the approaching motorcycles. Rylan waved from the front seat of the Jeep. With the vehicle’s top down, the guard had a clear view of him.

			A second later, a metallic grinding filled the night air as the gate slid open and two of Reese’s people waved the convoy in.

			Lennox drove into a gravel-lined courtyard littered with dozens of other vehicles. He killed the engine and glanced around, noting that not much had changed since his last visit.

			Foxworth was nothing more than one street with a town square and park in its center, and one- to three-story shops lining both sides of the wide lane. The gates had been built to enclose just the main stretch; there were several very nice properties in the surrounding area, but Reese wanted everybody close by, so storefronts and boutiques had been converted into living quarters. The town’s rec center served as a gathering place, and there was even one restaurant that was completely operational.

			Foxworth was downright paradise compared to some of the other communities Lennox had visited.

			He removed his helmet and slid off the bike, turning toward the Jeep as Jamie popped out of the passenger’s seat. She was surprisingly light on her feet. Then again, she’d just spent hours in a car with the object of her affection.

			Annoyance clamped around Lennox’s windpipe. He tried to force it away, but the vise only squeezed tighter when Rylan stepped out. His jeans were unzipped.

			So that was why Jamie was so chipper. She’d blown Rylan on the ride over.

			Lennox met Rylan’s eyes and nodded at the man’s crotch. With a wink, Rylan zipped up and wandered toward Kade to help him unload the Jeep.

			Knowing Jamie’s mouth had been on Rylan brought simultaneous jolts of heat and resentment. Jamie knew her way around a man’s cock, so damned if the thought of her sucking someone off didn’t turn him on.

			Sadly, Lennox would never be lucky enough to experience that magic mouth on his dick. He’d gone to great lengths to preserve their friendship by solidly keeping sex out of the equation.

			“I was hoping you’d be here.” A throaty voice sounded from his left, and then Reese appeared and tugged him toward her for a hug.

			She looked as gorgeous as ever. Her hair, the color of burnished copper, streamed over one shoulder in long waves. Black pants and a tight black tee hugged her endless supply of curves, showing off a pair of spectacular tits and an ass he’d dug his fingers into on more than one occasion.

			Lennox kissed her cheek, then pulled back and examined her. Her brown eyes, usually shrewd and alert, were lined with exhaustion.

			“You look tired,” he said frankly.

			Reese sighed. “I am tired. Sloan and I butchered a cow today. Took hours.”

			Sloan was Reese’s number two. The burly, bearded man served as her shadow, which was why Lennox wasn’t surprised to find him lurking a few feet away, his watchful gaze fixed on his queen.

			“I’m glad you’re here.” A slow smile curved Reese’s full red lips. “I was starting to get bored.”

			He grinned. “What, the forty-odd dicks in this place aren’t enough to satisfy you?”

			“Not like yours.” She swept her gaze over his arms, chest, and groin, then licked her lips. “Fuck, I’m really glad you’re here.”

			“What about me?” came Rylan’s careless voice. “Happy to see me?”

			In the blink of an eye, Reese’s demeanor went from seductive to displeased. “Rylan,” she said coolly.

			“Reese.” The blond man bent his tall frame to kiss her cheek, and though she let him, she didn’t seem to enjoy it. “You look beautiful as always, my queen.” He gave an exaggerated bow that made Reese roll her eyes.

			“Thanks.”

			One syllable was all she spared before dismissing Rylan from her gaze. Shifting around, she leaned up on her tiptoes to press her mouth to Lennox’s.

			The kiss was brief but molten hot. Reese’s tongue curled around his in a teasing stroke before she nibbled on his bottom lip and murmured, “Come find me later, honey. We’ve got lots of catching up to do.”

			As she drifted off to greet Pike, Rylan let out a heavy sigh. “Tell me your secret, brother. How do you get her to stick her tongue down your throat like that?”

			He snickered. “Easy. I don’t annoy her.”

			“I don’t do it on purpose,” Rylan protested.

			Lennox couldn’t disagree. Rylan was the least annoying person he’d ever met, yet Reese was constantly swatting him away like a bothersome fly buzzing around her head. Lennox couldn’t even begin to figure out why that was. Reese was a strange creature, happily welcoming some men into her bed, while being incredibly selective about others.

			Jamie joined them, carting her duffel bag in one hand. “Where are we sleeping?” she asked Lennox. “The usual place?”

			He nodded in response. Whenever they came to Foxworth, the two of them usually crashed in adjoining rooms that had once made up the office and waiting area of a law firm.

			“I’ll drop our bags off.” He relieved her of the duffel, cursing when he felt its heft. “What the hell did you pack in here, love? Bricks?”

			“We’re here for a month,” she said defensively. “I brought a little bit of everything.”

			Lennox smothered a sigh. Traveling with Jamie could be a pain in the ass sometimes.

			She glanced at Rylan. “You guys aren’t starting the training stuff tonight, are you?”

			“Hell no. We can start tomorrow.” Rylan’s blue eyes danced impishly. “Tonight we party.”





5


			“You asked him to come, sweetheart.” Sloan voiced the gruff words after Reese had directed yet another dark glare in Rylan’s direction.

			She gritted her teeth at the unwelcome reminder. Yes, she’d requested Rylan’s presence. Yes, she’d all but threatened to cut off Connor’s balls if he didn’t send Rylan and Pike her way. But that didn’t mean she had to like it.

			“Because I need him,” she muttered in response. “He and Pike understand combat—they’ll be able to teach our people everything they need to know.”

			“Your people,” Sloan corrected.

			She smiled wryly. “I might give the orders, but they all know I don’t make a single decision without your input.”

			They reached the front stoop of the two-story building Reese called home. Sloan stopped by the rail and fixed those serious hazel eyes on her.

			His steady gaze unnerved her, as it always did when she found herself the focus of it. Only two people had the ability to read her, to dive into her mind and know exactly what she was thinking. One of them was dead. The other was very much alive, and far too willing to use that skill to his advantage.

			“Remind me again why we don’t like him,” he said.

			The mocking note in his tone grated on her nerves. “Because he’s a wild card. And we don’t like wild cards.”

			Sloan nodded.

			She knew what he really wanted to say. That Rylan’s total recklessness and unpredictable nature reminded her too much of Jake. Which was the truth—the similarities between the two men were damn near eerie. They even shared a physical resemblance with their fair hair and blue eyes. Jake had been smaller, though, only a few inches taller than Reese, and lanky in contrast to Rylan’s broad, muscular frame.

			If she was basing her opinion on looks alone, she would’ve fucked Rylan’s brains out a year ago. Didn’t matter that he reminded her of her dead lover, because her dead lover had been one of the sexiest, most magnetic men she’d ever met. Jake might have turned into a tyrant by the time he died, but her attraction to him had remained stronger than ever despite that.

			No, it was Rylan’s complete lack of self-preservation that concerned her. His inability to walk the path of least resistance. The way he dove headfirst into danger without a single thought to his own well-being or that of others. She suspected he fed off the thrill, the adrenaline high, and maybe that worked well for him, but it wasn’t the way Reese operated.

			“We need to be smart about how we handle this,” she told Sloan. “Keep an eye on him while he’s here.”

			“You think Connor was suspicious?”

			“I know Connor was suspicious.” She cursed under her breath. Connor was a major thorn in her side sometimes. The man was too perceptive for his own good, not to mention a ruthless motherfucker. If he caught so much as a whiff that she might be placing his men in danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to slit her throat.

			Her gaze drifted toward the small building that housed the recreation center. Rylan and Pike were already headed in that direction. From the carefree spring to Rylan’s long stride, she knew exactly what he’d be doing when he got there. Dropping his pants and sticking his dick in the first available pussy.

			And that was just fine by Reese. Let him screw to his heart’s content. Rylan’s sex drive bordered on addiction, and she was happy to provide him with all the sexual distractions at her disposal. Her girls enjoyed his company. They’d keep him busy enough that he wouldn’t think too hard about everything else going on around him.

			“What do you need me to do?” Sloan said in a low voice.

			The question didn’t surprise her. She and Sloan had been through hell and back together—the man did whatever she asked. There was no line he wouldn’t cross for her.

			“Do what you do best,” she answered, arching a playful eyebrow. “Pay attention and keep your mouth shut.”

			He flashed a rare grin. “Just the way I like it.”


* * *

			The rec hall was bustling with activity when Lennox arrived after stashing his and Jamie’s bags. A few dozen people filled up the space, holding various containers of alcohol and in various states of undress. Pulsing bass music blasted through the room. It shook the walls and the linoleum floor beneath Lennox’s heavy boots as he made his way through the crowd.

			Several women wandered over to greet him, and he smacked kisses on their cheeks before continuing toward a group of familiar faces.

			Beckett broke out in a wide grin at the sight of him. “Len! My man! You made it.” The tattooed mechanic slapped Lennox’s arm in greeting before yanking him in for a hug.

			Lennox grinned at his old friend. “You know I don’t pass up any opportunity to come here. Hey, Trav.”

			Travis stepped forward to bump his fist against Lennox’s. “Good to see you, man.”

			He shook hands with a few of the other guys, who he was friendly with but not close to—Nash, Davis, and Rick.

			“Heard your place got ambushed by Enforcers,” Nash said sympathetically. “Fuckin’ blows, man.”

			“Yeah, wasn’t too happy about that,” he admitted.

			“So you and your girls are living with Connor now?” Davis looked intrigued.

			Lennox nodded, accepting the whiskey bottle Beckett passed his way. He took a deep swig and welcomed the burn that hit his stomach. Reese had the best booze, high-grade stuff she smuggled in from the city. It was potent shit.

			“How’s that working out for you?” Davis pressed when he didn’t elaborate. “Connor’s woman there too?”

			“Where else would she be?”

			“Hot as hell, that one,” Rick drawled. “Con wouldn’t let anyone touch her when she was here.”

			Lennox thought about Hudson’s tight body and flowing golden hair, and could understand exactly why Connor would want to lock that shit up. “Do you blame him?” His attention was diverted when loud laughter echoed from the vicinity of the pool table. “Well, fuck me. When did you get the table refelted?”

			Last time he’d visited, the green felt was in tatters after decades of use. Sinking a ball in any of the pockets had been like navigating a damn minefield.

			“Last week,” Beckett revealed. “Sloan and Trav were out on a supply run and came across an abandoned pub about a hundred miles south.”

			Travis rolled his dark eyes. “Sloan wouldn’t leave until we’d stripped every billiards table in the place. You should’ve seen how carefully he was slicing off the felt. Like he’d rather cut off his own finger than bring Reese an inferior product.”

			Lennox had to laugh. It was no secret that Sloan would walk through fire for Reese, but the man’s unwavering loyalty was intense sometimes.

			“Beck!”

			The men turned as Jamie flew up to the group. Blue eyes shining happily, she threw her arms around Beckett, who lifted her off her feet and hugged her tight.

			Seeing Jamie look so happy flooded Lennox’s chest with warmth. Maybe it was a good thing he’d allowed her to come along. They’d been through too much shit lately—losing their home, losing their close friend Nell . . . Fuck, now his chest was aching, because he was suddenly hit with the memory of Jamie sitting on the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks as she held Nell’s lifeless body in her arms.

			The ambush on their house had been an unwelcome reminder of how fleeting life in the free land could be. People died. They always fucking died. But even knowing that, Lennox felt wrecked every time he was forced to grieve for someone he’d cared about.

			Tonight wasn’t about grieving, though. It was about seeing old friends and having fun. Enjoying a rare respite from the bullshit beyond Foxworth’s gates.

			“I missed you,” Jamie told Beckett before planting her lips square on his mouth.

			Beckett slipped her some tongue, then lowered her down and slung an arm around her shoulder. “Missed you too, babe.” His hand nonchalantly eased lower to cup her left breast over her tight black tank.

			In retaliation, she reached out and squeezed one of Beckett’s sculpted pecs, hard enough to make him wince.

			“No fair,” the dark-haired man griped. “My tits aren’t as big as yours. It hurts when you do that.”

			“Oh, you poor man. We should find out if there’re still doctors around who perform boob jobs. Did you know people actually used to do that? I think they were called plastic surgeons or something.”

			Lennox watched the exchange with amusement. He and Jamie had known Beckett for years, long before the man had settled down in Foxworth. He’d been a nomad when they first met, fixing up old cars he found on the road, roaming the colony alone, and interspersing the months of solitude with visits to Lennox’s for some booze and female companionship.

			Beck and Jamie had fooled around more times than Lennox could count, but it had never bothered him. Maybe it was because he knew she didn’t have feelings for Beck. Or any of the other men she’d been with, for that matter. They were just a lay to her, a good time.

			Her infatuation with Rylan was another story. Jamie looked at him the way she’d looked at all her boyfriends growing up: as if they’d hung the goddamn moon.

			Lennox didn’t like that. He knew Jamie better than she knew herself. She loved to be in love, but more than that, she wanted to be in love. She wanted the same thing her parents had—a partnership, someone to build a life with.

			It was more than evident to Lennox that Rylan wasn’t interested in finding a woman to settle down with. He just wanted to fuck around, but Jamie was oblivious of that harsh truth. Sooner or later she’d try pushing Rylan into something serious, and the man would bail and leave her with a broken heart. Lennox could see that disaster coming from miles away, but he’d yet to find a way to broach the subject without pissing Jamie off.

			“Come dance with me,” she urged Beckett.

			He waggled his eyebrows. “Only if it’s naked dancing.”

			She offered a compromise. “How about we start with the dancing and work our way up to the naked part?”

			“Deal.” Beckett lifted her into his arms and carted her toward the center of the room while Jamie laughed in delight and locked her hands around his neck.

			Lennox watched as the other man set Jamie on her feet and shoved one hard thigh between her legs. A second later, they were tangled up together, bodies moving seductively to the music.

			He shifted his gaze in time to see Reese arrive. Sloan was at her heels, but remained standing near the door as Reese settled on an empty couch in the far corner of the room. She cocked her head at Lennox, who quickly excused himself and wandered over to join her.

			The moment he was beside her, Reese curled her legs under her and rested her head on his shoulder. “So, how is it living under Connor’s thumb?” she asked dryly.

			“Pretty good, actually. They have a solid setup, fully stocked for winter. It’s a good place to regroup while we decide whether we’re taking off on our own again.”

			She peered up with a frown. “Don’t do that. Seriously, Len. Stay there, or come live here with us. It’s not safe anywhere else.”

			“It never was.”

			Her tone was grim. “It’s even worse now.”

			Lennox searched her face. “Enforcers giving you trouble?”

			Reese hesitated, as if she didn’t know how much to share. Then she nodded. “Yeah, a bit. Sloan nearly killed the last rep who came by.”

			“Shit. That’s no good.” He knew Reese had a shit ton of alliances in place with certain higher-ranked Enforcers. Lennox was privy to way more information than he’d told Connor, but he planned on filling his new leader in eventually.

			The Enforcers used Foxworth as a campsite of sorts during their colony sweeps. It wasn’t an arrangement Lennox or any of the others were comfortable with, but it was the price to pay for the Enforcers’ silence. Reese gave the assholes beds, booze, and broads, and in return, Foxworth was immune. The outlaws living there weren’t rounded up or reported to the council, and Foxworth was allowed to continue to thrive.

			“What’d the bastard do to piss off Sloan?” Lennox asked curiously.

			“He tried changing the terms of our deal.” Her jaw was tighter than he’d ever seen it. “The piece of shit wanted to ‘borrow’ one of my girls so they’d have a fuck toy during their colony sweep.”

			Lennox frowned. “You’re kidding me.”

			“No joke. I told him there was no way in hell he was taking anyone out of Foxworth. He got pissy, aggressive. Started throwing his weight around, but Sloan shut it down.”

			“How?”

			She snorted. “Knocked the bastard out cold. It was a total shit storm when he came to. He wanted to execute Sloan on the spot, but I threatened to go to his commander and tell Ferris all about our little deal.”

			Which would be like signing his death warrant. Commander Ferris strictly forbade any contact between his soldiers and the outlaws. Lennox had never met the man, but he’d heard Ferris was ruthless as hell and known to execute his own men if they disobeyed orders.

			“The asshole and his troop took off, but I didn’t like the way we left things,” Reese admitted. “Another rep came by a few weeks later, apologized for his man and said the deal stands, but there was tension there. I didn’t like that either.”

			He didn’t blame her. Antagonizing the Enforcers would only lead to a war. Reese had a good thing going with them right now, so it was best if she found a way to preserve the alliance.

			“Anyway, enough business,” she said flippantly. Her hand found its way into his lap at the same time she pressed her lips to the side of his throat. “I have a surprise for you.”

			“Oh, really?”

			She nibbled on his neck, and a hot shiver of anticipation raced up his spine. It’d been far too long since he slept with a woman as passionate as Reese.

			“Surprise,” a throaty voice said.

			Fuck. Make that two passionate women.

			Lennox twisted his head as a stunning brunette with catlike eyes approached the couch. Decked out in a black corset and a teeny scrap of fabric that constituted a skirt, the woman lowered herself onto Lennox’s lap and brushed a seductive kiss on his lips.

			“Tam,” he groaned into her mouth. “Didn’t know you were here.”

			“Well, now you do.” Dark eyes gleamed impishly at him. “I’m heading out tomorrow morning, but you know I can’t leave the colony without seeing my favorite badass.”

			He was flattered. Tamara ate men for dinner and spat them right out, so the fact that she had a soft spot for him was, frankly, a relief. The woman was a legend in the free land. A smuggler, she was an outlaw’s go-to for anything his heart desired, but the prices she charged for her services were damn steep. She also wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone down if they betrayed her. Hell, she was capable of doing it just because they’d annoyed her or caught her on a bad day.

			Luckily Lennox didn’t annoy her often. Didn’t annoy anyone, for that matter. He wasn’t being naive when he said he didn’t have any enemies among his fellow outlaws. He was well liked by everyone, and he used that to his advantage.

			“Where you off to?” he asked as she ran one hand down the center of his chest.

			“South Colony. I need a vacation.”

			He snickered. Only Tamara could get away with saying shit like that. She had the means to do it too. With her connections, she could sunbathe nude on any beach on the globe, in full view of the Enforcers.

			“I wish I could go with you,” Reese grumbled.

			Tamara grinned at the other woman. “You should. Ditch this shit hole and travel the Colonies with me. Think of all the trouble we could get into.”

			“Plenty of trouble to be had here.” Reese brought her hand to Lennox’s belt and slowly undid the buckle.

			A second later, she had his zipper down and was holding his jeans open for Tamara, who wasted no time sliding her hand inside them.

			Lennox groaned as warm fingers encircled his rapidly hardening cock. Tamara pumped him slowly. Reese leaned in to suck on his neck.

			Every man in the room was staring enviously in their direction. Including Rylan, who caught Lennox’s eye and tipped his head in an unspoken question.

			“Rylan wants in,” Lennox murmured.

			Reese stiffened, lifting her head to frown at him. “No fucking way.”

			He tried another angle. “I hear he’s good with his tongue . . .”

			“Oh, he is,” Tamara confirmed.

			“I don’t care how good he is,” was Reese’s muttered response. “This is a private party. He’s not invited.”

			Lennox shot a rueful look at Rylan, giving a slight shake of his head. The blond man rolled his eyes before turning to say something to Pike.

			Ah well. He’d tried. Rylan was on his own tonight. And Lennox, well, he was suddenly being tugged to his feet by the two women, Tamara’s hand still buried inside his jeans.

			“We want you to ourselves tonight.” Reese brought her mouth to his ear, flicking her tongue over the lobe. “And you better not be tired from that long drive, because we expect you to last all goddamn night.”

			A wicked grin lifted his lips. That sounded fucking phenomenal.

			Or rather, it sounded like phenomenal fucking.

			“I’ll see what I can do.”





6


			When Jamie approached the huge lot behind the town square the next morning, she knew without a shred of doubt that she was going to enjoy every single second of the Foxworth combat training.

			Rylan, in all his masculine glory, was stripped down to a pair of jeans and scuffed black boots, his bare chest and golden hair gleaming in the sunshine.

			She suddenly wished she’d fooled around with Beckett last night instead of spending the time catching up and shooting pool with him. If she’d gone to bed well fucked, then maybe her body wouldn’t be pulsing like an electric current right now, aching for action.

			Speaking of well fucked . . . Lennox looked more relaxed than ever as he strode up to her. He’d disappeared with Reese and Tamara yesterday, and Jamie didn’t need to guess what the trio had been up to all night. The answer was right there in Lennox’s heavy-lidded gray eyes.

			“Had fun last night, did ya?” she teased.

			“Reese and I had a lot of catching up to do,” Lennox said with a wink.

			Three stone walls no more than four feet high enclosed the north side of the town square, and Lennox hopped up on the wide ledge of the back wall. His body was angled so that he was facing the parking lot rather than the bronzed statue in the square behind them. The statue was a man on a horse, but the engraved letters on the plaque at the base had been scratched off. Jamie figured the guy was probably a war hero. Maybe from one of the battles that had been fought long before the final war that had led to the formation of the Global Council.

			“I’m sure.” She climbed up beside him, unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. “And Tamara? Catching up with her too?”

			He shrugged. “She left for South Colony this morning. Someone needed to send her off with a bang.”

			Jamie snickered.

			Their attention turned to the lot, which today was serving as an impromptu gun range. Rylan and Pike had already set up targets in various sections of the lot. Now the two men stood near a large wooden crate, checking the arsenal of handguns and rifles stashed there. Jamie wasn’t sure how Reese had accumulated so many weapons, but there was no point in asking the woman. Reese never divulged her secrets if she could help it.

			The first group of trainees trickled in. According to Beckett, of the eighty people living in Foxworth, only about twenty of them knew how to shoot a gun. The other sixty were clueless, and Rylan and Pike were splitting them up into groups of fifteen for the training sessions.

			Jamie raised an eyebrow at the amount of young faces she was seeing. Normally she only spent time with Beck, Travis, and a few other close friends, so she hadn’t realized there were so many kids in town. Half of the first group was made up of teenagers.

			Two skinny boys who couldn’t have been older than fourteen were laughing to each other as they walked up. One jabbed the other in the ribs, which led to a lighthearted shoving match that had them cackling.

			“Were we ever that young?” she asked Lennox.

			He teasingly pinched her arm. “Yep.”

			“Are you sure? Because I feel so old now. Actually, I felt ancient even when I was their age.” She nodded toward the exuberant boys.

			“You’re twenty-five, love.” Lennox grinned. “Hardly what anyone would consider ancient.”

			Rylan’s easygoing drawl drifted over from the target range. “Everyone grab a gun,” he was telling the new arrivals. “Hold it. Get used to the weight of it in your hands. Then we’ll show you how to load the magazines.”

			Jamie chuckled as every boy eagerly reached for a handgun. The girls seemed more reluctant, except for one dark-haired teenager who snatched up a slate-gray Glock as if it were a rare piece of chocolate.

			“We should have brought Piper,” Jamie mused. “She could have benefited from these lessons.”

			“Rylan can teach her when we get back,” Lennox answered in a firm tone. “I don’t like her being out in the colony.”

			“Uh-huh, sure. More like you don’t want her witnessing all the debauchery here in Foxworth.”

			It didn’t surprise her when Lennox didn’t offer a denial. He couldn’t, because he was as protective of Piper as he was of Jamie.

			“What, you think Piper’s innocent eyes can’t handle the sight of you screwing Tamara from behind while she’s going down on Reese?”

			“That’s not what happened last night.”

			“No?”

			He broke out in a wolfish grin. “If you must know, Tamara was riding my face while Reese rode my cock.”

			The crude confession sent a jolt of lust straight to her pussy. She had no doubt that Lennox had made Reese and Tamara very happy last night. She’d seen him in action before, and damn, her best friend had no problems in the sex department.

			“Braggart,” Jamie accused.

			“Right, like you weren’t doing the same thing with Beckett and Travis.” Lennox paused, donning a faraway look for a moment. Then he let out a rough curse.

			“What’s wrong?”

			“Nothing.” His voice sounded pained. “I was just remembering the last time Beck and Trav were over at the old house.”

			She remembered it too. Vividly. The two men had driven her wild that night. Beck pounding her pussy while Trav pounded her ass . . . A shiver ran through her as the delicious memories rose to the surface.

			Beside her, Lennox shifted as if in discomfort. “How many times did you come that night?”

			“God, I can’t even remember. Three? Four?”

			He grunted out a noise.

			Jamie turned toward him, armed with a grin, but the smile died on her lips when she saw his eyes. They were molten, gleaming with raw heat that caught her off guard. It was a look she’d seen often, and one he wore well. A look that dampened the panties of any woman lucky enough to be the focus of that deep, intense stare.

			But Jamie wasn’t usually on the receiving end of it. Her nipples puckered into tight buds as the heat on Lennox’s face singed right through her shirt. Sizzled right to her core. A strange current crackled in the air between them as their eyes locked.

			“Len?” she said uncertainly.

			His tongue came out to brush his upper lip. Jesus. Either she was completely misreading the situation, or Lennox was actually—

			“Never point your weapon at someone!” Pike’s sharp voice snapped in their direction. “Treat every gun like it’s loaded, even if you’re sure it isn’t.”

			“Seriously, don’t fuck around with these things.” Rylan spoke up in agreement, but his voice was far gentler than Pike’s. “You wouldn’t believe how many innocent suckers have had their brains blown out by ‘unloaded’ weapons.” He air-quoted that, then stepped up to one of the boys and nudged the kid’s gun barrel in a safe direction with no human targets in sight.

			Jamie liked the easy way Rylan interacted with the teenagers. Pike was too harsh, but that was to be expected, seeing as the man was a coldhearted robot. Rylan was the more personable, down-to-earth of the two, and the kids in the group seemed to respond to that.

			“Shouldn’t you be over there?”

			Lennox’s voice had her glancing back at him. It was clear that whatever moment they’d just shared had passed—his usual lazy expression was affixed firmly on his face. No trace of heat whatsoever.

			But she knew she hadn’t imagined his arousal before. It had been there, clear as the cloudless blue sky above them. Was it her, though? Had she been the one to stir his libido, or had he simply gotten off on the idea of Beck and Travis tag-teaming someone? Maybe he’d swapped her face for another woman’s as he’d pictured her sandwiched between two men.

			That seemed likelier the more she thought about it. She hadn’t lied to Hudson when she confessed that Lennox had never shown even a hint of sexual interest in her. So it was hard to imagine that now, after twenty-odd years of knowing each other, he’d suddenly decided he wanted her.

			It was probably better if he didn’t. She’d put her attraction to Lennox to bed a long time ago. She was focusing on other men these days.

			“That’s one of the reasons you wanted to come here, right?” Lennox added, an edge in his voice. “To brush up on your own training?”

			She flushed at the reminder of the lie she’d told him. It had been an excuse for her to spend time with Rylan, and they both knew it.

			“I’m more interested in the hand-to-hand stuff,” she said, shrugging. “Maybe the knife training too. I already know my way around a gun.”

			Lennox didn’t answer. Tension stretched between them, so thick she could slice it with the knife hooked to her belt, but she didn’t know how to make it better.

			For the next hour, they watched the training in complete silence, and it wasn’t long before Jamie found herself yawning. Rylan and Pike were busy teaching the group how to hold the weapons in a simple two-handed grip, how to provide leverage against the recoil, the proper stance to use when aiming at a stationary target. Nobody had even fired a gun yet.

			By the time the trainees were allowed to discharge their weapons, Jamie had reached her boredom breaking point.

			“Want to grab something to eat?” she suggested.

			With a curt nod, Lennox slid off the ledge and held out his hand to her.

			She took it, curling her fingers around his as he helped her to the ground. The tension was still there. She got the feeling he was mad at her, which only triggered a burst of irritation, because she hadn’t done a damn thing to deserve his anger.

			“Everything okay?” she asked tightly.

			His head jerked in another nod. “All good, love.”

			Bullshit. But she wasn’t in the mood to argue or pry. Lennox was like Rylan in many ways—easygoing to the max and oozing sexuality—but he also had his Pike moments of broody intensity. She’d learned never to push him when that moody cloud entered his eyes.

			They headed down the cracked cobblestone sidewalk toward the large corner restaurant at the far edge of Main Street. The bright red sign had once read MERYL’S FAMILY RESTAURANT, but someone had crossed out the MERYL’S and spray-painted GRAHAM’S on top of it. Seeing it always made Jamie chuckle.

			“Graham better be cooking up some burgers,” she said as Lennox opened the door for her. “Beck said Reese and Sloan were butchering at the farm the other day.”

			The wind chimes hanging on the doorframe tinkled to signal their entrance. Sure enough, the delicious aroma of beef and deep-fried goodness filled Jamie’s nostrils.

			Foxworth had an operational farm beyond the town gates, which was run by an older couple who preferred farming and solitude to the constant activity in town. Reese assigned people to work shifts at the farm, but Jamie had never visited the place. It would’ve made her feel too guilty to look at all those sweet cows knowing she was going to eat one. Apparently the farm had started out with fifteen cows when Reese’s group settled in the area, but last time Jamie was in Foxworth, Reese admitted they were down to three.

			“What are they going to do when the beef runs out?” she murmured to Lennox, who was guiding her to the long counter across the room.

			He shrugged. “Hunt more, I guess. There’s lots of game out in these woods.”

			They slid onto a pair of tattered vinyl stools and greeted the outlaw woman behind the counter.

			“Holy shit,” Jamie exclaimed, gaping at the pretty brunette. “You absolutely weren’t this big when I saw you a month ago, Bethany. You look like you’re going to pop any second!”

			Bethany rubbed a rueful hand over the enormous bulge of her stomach. “I know, right? Feels like I’m way too big to only be six months along, but I don’t have anyone else to compare it to, so maybe it’s normal?”

			Jamie didn’t have a source of comparison either. There hadn’t been a single pregnant woman in her camp growing up, and she and Lennox had never run into one during their travels. Bethany was the first and only woman she knew who was brave enough to get pregnant in the free land, and Bethany’s decision brought a tug of envy to Jamie’s heart.

			She wanted children too.

			She really, really did.

			The one time she’d confessed it to Lennox, he’d laughed gently and told her she was crazy for wanting to get knocked up. Not only was the free land fraught with danger and hardship, but the Global Council strictly prohibited procreation. Only the handpicked breeders and studs in the cities were allowed to increase the population, and every pregnancy was carefully monitored.

			Outlaw procreation was even more of a concern to the council. The Enforcers rounded up the pregnant women they found, and if they discovered any children in the free land, the parents were killed and the child was whisked away to the city.

			So yes, it was a dangerous desire to harbor. Jamie was well aware of that. But the longing was there. The need to put down roots and bring new life to the world was embedded deep inside her, and seeing Bethany’s rounded belly and rosy glow only intensified the urge.

			“Maybe it’s twins,” Lennox suggested, waggling his eyebrows.

			Bethany paled. “Oh hell, don’t say that, Len. I don’t think I could handle it. And Arch would faint on the spot.”

			“He’d lose his shit,” Lennox agreed with a laugh, before going serious. “Your man taking good care of you, love? Do I need to have a chat with him?”

			Bethany rolled her eyes. “Arch and I are doing just fine. We’re both excited for this baby, both pulling our weight.”

			“Good.” Lennox nodded briskly.

			Jamie hid a smile. She knew Lennox would’ve kicked Arch’s ass if it turned out he wasn’t supporting Bethany. Lennox was everybody’s champion, but that was one of the things Jamie loved most about him. He’d lay down his life for the people he cared about. Hell, he’d lay down his life for strangers, depending on the circumstances.

			“What can I get you guys?” Bethany asked. “Burgers and fries or beef stew. Take your pick.”

			“Burgers and fries,” they said in unison.

			The brunette grinned. “Coming right up.” She disappeared into the back to place their order with Graham, the grumpy, bushy-haired cook who had the tendency to call Jamie “little one” even though he couldn’t have been a year or two older than her.

			The wind chimes over the door gave another melodic ring as Beckett and Travis strode inside. Jamie waved at them, then hopped off the stool to join the two men in a red vinyl booth by the window. Lennox slid in beside her, stretching one arm along the back of the booth, his fingertips lightly grazing her shoulder.

			“Hey, Bethy! Burgers!” Beckett held up two fingers toward the counter, gesturing from him to Travis.

			“Ever heard of the word please?” was Bethany’s dry retort.

			“Only in bed,” he called back. “It’s always please, Beck, fuck me harder. Please, Beck, gimme your cock.” He feigned a confused look. “Why? Does it have meaning in another context?”

			Bethany grinned at him. “I’m spitting in your food, sweetie. Just keep that in mind when you’re eating, ’kay?”

			Beckett turned back to the group. “She won’t spit in my food. She loves me too much.”

			Jamie laughed, but made a mental note not to take a bite out of anything on Beckett’s plate. The man might have women panting over him, but Bethany wasn’t someone you should ever underestimate.

			Muffled gunfire sounded from the town square, causing Travis’s green eyes to shift toward the large front window. “You guys catch any of the target practice?” he asked.

			Lennox nodded. “The kids are eager to learn.”

			“They don’t see a lot of excitement here,” Travis admitted. “Reese doesn’t let them go on supply runs. At least not yet.”

			“I don’t blame her. It’s dangerous outside these gates.” Lennox absently ran his hand over Jamie’s shoulder as he spoke, sending a peculiar shiver along her flesh.

			She snuck a peek at his fingers. Long and callused, masculine but graceful. Her gaze slid to his wrist and forearm, resting on the swirls of ink tattooed on his golden skin. The black, red, and orangey designs extended all the way up to his solid biceps. Random pieces he’d accumulated over the years, when they’d been lucky enough to find a tattoo artist during their travels.

			His other arm was also inked, but not a full sleeve. Just intricate lines and curves on his forearm, with streams of text hidden within the design. Jamie focused on one line in particular, the unmistakable capital letter inked in gorgeous calligraphy.

			J.

			He had her initial tattooed on his body. And she had his: an L on her right calf, surrounded by tiny flowers and twisty vines.

			Nobody had ever picked up on that. Not Piper or Layla. Not Nell, the good friend they’d lost during the attack on their house. But Jamie had never thought anything romantic of the gestures. She and Lennox were best friends. There was nothing wrong with marking that friendship on their skin.

			Right now, however, he didn’t feel like a friend. He felt like a brooding, sexed-up man who’d essentially ravaged her with his eyes earlier.

			She had no idea how to respond to that.

			“. . . drinking restrictions too,” Beckett was saying.

			Her head snapped up. “Wait—repeat that? Are you seriously saying Reese limits how much those teenagers are allowed to drink?”

			“Yep.” He grinned. “She’s a cruel mistress, our Reese. But hell, I can’t argue with that. Alcohol and teenagers don’t mix well.”

			“Drunk kids do stupid things,” Travis agreed.

			Jamie poked Lennox in the side and said, “Drunk adults do stupid things too.”

			“Bullshit,” he retorted. “I can handle my alcohol.”

			“Uh-huh. Sure.” She glanced at the two men across from them. “Ten.”

			Beckett’s lips twitched. “Ten what?”

			“That’s how many shots Len can handle before he turns into a slurring, bumbling mess.”

			That got her another protest from Lennox. “Bullshit!”

			Travis looked intrigued. “And how’d you come to this conclusion, sweetheart?”

			“Years and years of research,” Jamie answered. “First time I noticed it, we were—what, sixteen, Len?”

			He grumbled.

			“Mr. Cocky over here challenged me to a drinking contest one night, so we stole a bottle of rum from his dad’s tent.” Jamie stopped, laughing. “Scratch that—I stole a bottle of rum from his dad’s tent, because Len was too much of a pussy to do it—”

			“We flipped a coin,” he cut in, his eyes dark with irritation.

			She ignored him. “So we took the bottle and snuck down to the beach. We were living on the coast at that time.”

			“She matched me shot for shot,” Lennox admitted, albeit grudgingly.

			“And when we got to ten shots, Dumb-ass over here tried to fight a tree.”

			Beckett and Travis howled with laughter.

			Lennox pinched her shoulder, then gave it a little smack. “There was a goddamn animal in that tree. I told you, I saw it.”

			“Oh, sweetie,” was all Jamie said. Then she rolled her eyes and addressed the other men. “After that, I kept count whenever he drank, and it was the same every time—ten drinks and Len does something crazy.”

			Beckett’s demeanor sobered as he looked from her to Lennox. “Must be nice.”

			She wrinkled her brow. “What’s nice?”

			“Having history with someone.” There was a profoundly sad chord in his tone. “My folks died when I was eight. I was alone in the colony after that.”

			Jamie hadn’t known, and her heart squeezed at the pain she saw in Beckett’s eyes. “I’m sorry, babe.”

			“It’s all good. I survived.” He shrugged.

			“Our parents died too,” Lennox said gruffly, his silvery gaze finding Jamie’s.

			“How?” Beckett asked.

			She swallowed as the memories surfaced. “Both our moms died of pneumonia. Lennox’s dad too. It wiped out most of our camp, actually. Started off as a cold, eventually turned into chest infections, then pneumonia. We had no meds, no antibiotics, and no way of getting our hands on them. All the Enforcer storage stations in the area had been looted clean.”

			Lennox’s warm hand squeezed her shoulder. “Jamie’s dad survived. So did a few others, but about a year after that, we were ambushed by bandits.”

			“They shot my father,” she said flatly.

			A pall fell over the booth, and not even the arrival of their lunch could ease the tightness in Jamie’s chest. She missed her parents. She knew Lennox missed his too.

			God, why was this world so fucked up?

			She felt Lennox soften beside her. Then he brushed a reassuring kiss on her cheek, and with that one moment of tender contact, the tension that had plagued them before faded away like a wisp of smoke. They were good again. She still wasn’t sure why they’d ever been bad, but she wasn’t about to question the abrupt shift. She just leaned in closer and borrowed strength from the strongest man she’d ever known.


* * *

			The first day of training wrapped up at sundown. Might be too soon to tell, but Rylan had noted some real progress among the trainees, especially the teenagers. They’d been eager to learn and, oddly enough, treated their weapons with far more respect than many of the older folks.

			The kids handled the guns with a level of seriousness that Rylan appreciated, as if they had true awareness for the power they held in their hands and the gravity of that responsibility.

			The adults had taken that responsibility for granted, wasting ammunition even when it was clear they weren’t prepared to hit the target.

			Rylan found the discrepancy between the age groups pretty fucking interesting.

			“You got this?” he asked Pike, who was in the process of closing up the gun crate.

			Pike nodded in response.

			“Thanks, brother. See you in the morning.”

			He left Pike in the dark lot and headed for the sidewalk. Large stone planters lined the cobblestones, and while they might have been overflowing with flowers at one point in time, the planters now served as cisterns to collect rainwater. Rylan paused in front of one and dipped his hands in the cool water.

			He splashed his face, then brought his cupped hands to his bare chest and let the water pour over his sweaty flesh. It had been a long day. His ears were still ringing from the continuous bursts of gunfire, and calluses had formed on his fingers from holding a gun for so long.

			“Well?”

			He turned at the sound of Reese’s voice. She approached him in lazy strides, but that laziness was belied by the sharp gleam in her brown eyes.

			“Well what?” he asked easily.

			“Think any of my people have potential?”

			“Everyone has potential when it comes to guns.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s not too difficult to master the concept of point and shoot.”

			His mo