I shoveled in a forkful of eggs thinking I was becoming a masochist.
It was high past time for me to stop dragging my ass to that diner five days a week. Christ, after that first time stopping in to grab a bite, I should have gotten on my bike and not come back.
Instead, I developed some sick fucking need to torture myself incessantly.
Across the dated countertop I sat at—the same damn place my ass was parked every time I came in—she was singing. She did that a lot. It was always quiet, just barely audible from my spot, and eaten up by the room before it could get to any of the tables.
Today, it was “Delta Dawn.”
I knew the song, though I wondered how the fuck she did. It had to be about as old as me. My mom listened to it when I was growing up, but it wasn’t a new one even then. Forty-odd years later, it was surprising a girl in her twenties would know it, let alone be singing it quietly while she worked.
In her twenties, I repeated the thought to myself the way I did every time I had it.
Even as I did, I couldn’t tear my eyes off of her. Not that that was anything unusual. How the hell she hadn’t cottoned on, I didn’t know. Then again, Genevieve was a woman the likes of which were rare these days.
Evie had told me a lot in the months I’d been planting my ass on the stool in front of her four times. The only reason I skipped three days every week was because she didn’t work them. The food she set down in front of me each time was fine, but it wasn’t what kept me coming back. It was her. She was sweet as sugar and for some reason seemed to take to me. This meant I got a lot of her sweet directed my way when I took up residence at that counter. She’d talk about what she had going on, how she was studying to be a nurse, her roommate, crazy shit that happened there at the diner. She’d talk about whatever came to her, and I’d soak up every damn word.
What she hadn’t said—and I hadn’t asked because I was smart enough to know that it was dangerous ground for my own self-control—was how the fuck she came to be the woman she was. That being, a woman who was cute, gracious, caring, funny, but more importantly, sheltered.
I knew it the first time she’d taken the gamble on talking to me, and she’d asked about my cut. It wasn’t like I never got questions about the Savage Disciples MC patch on my back. Hell, it wasn’t even like I didn’t get those from a whole lot of folks who knew nothing about the life. It was the blatant curiosity that shone in her eyes—a look I’d seen more than a few times since—that verged on wonder. Like a bunch of bikers were the stuff of fairy tales or some shit.
“Top you off, Mr. President?” the object of my obsession asked on a light, ringing laugh.
Yeah, she’d started calling me “Mr. President” when I’d explained that part of the cut to her.
Christ, she was dangerous.
I gave her a lift of my chin, which got me a smile I forced myself not to fully take in as she topped off more coffee into my mug.
The words earned me another smile, this one softer.
That right there might be the biggest indicator she was sheltered.
She’d told me once, amid her talking about the nursing program she was doing, and how she wished she’d been able to start right out of high school and already be working in the job she’d wanted since she was young, that she’d just recently turned twenty-five. I wouldn’t deny that there were twenty-five-year-olds out there that’d smile at me and do a fuck of a lot more. I wasn’t in my twenties—or my thirties—anymore, but I could still get a lot of women of a lot of different ages in my bed. Patch chasers or party girls, that “President” stitched onto the front of my cut could get me a taste of a variety of flavors.
Evie wasn’t one of those.
A girl like Evie, with the air of innocence that hung around her, had no business smiling at the gruff, former marine, old-enough-to-be-her-father president of the local motorcycle club.
And that asshole had no business coming around, drinking in all the sweet that was her, and dreaming about what it would be like to get a taste.
“Time to make the rounds,” she announced, moving her lithe body around the counter to go check on the two occupied tables in the joint.
I had to curl my hand into a fist so tight my knuckles protested to keep from turning where I sat to watch her move. It was a battle I fought every time I was there. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I was at about a forty percent success rate. The other sixty percent of the time, I’d end up engraining her courteous smiles, the flair of her waist, the way her hips moved with her steps into my head. Like I didn’t already have a million images of her stored away up there, making certain the torture I came here and subjected myself to didn’t stop when I walked out the door.
By the time Evie finished her rounds, including delivering bills to both tables, I was finished eating. I’d even gotten out the cash to cover my meal—since I ate there so often I already knew what the damage would be. I told myself again and again that I should get my ass up and just call out a goodbye as I left.
Sticking with the theme, I didn’t listen to my own good advice.
Which was why I was still sitting at that damn bar when she was back behind it, standing right across from me with a smile on her face that had turned tight. I didn’t get it, not as I watched her grab the rag she used to wipe down the tables, not as she set about cleaning the unmarred stretch of counter in front of her.
“So…um…any plans this weekend?” There was a faint, nervous tremor to the words.
“Nothing much,” I answered, keeping my voice level.
Her anxiety set me on edge. It wasn’t like her. She wiped the same spot repeatedly as she turned over whatever she was about to say.
“I was wondering—you know, if you’re not busy and all—if you’d want to…I don’t know…get dinner,” she stumbled out. “Or something.”
Here I’d been thinking all this time that I needed to let go of this attachment. Never, not even once in the craziest shit my brain thought up when I didn’t check myself, did I think that the tables would turn.
She had no business, not a fucking lick, asking me out.
And now it fell on me to correct that problem, even when I wanted nothing more than to take her up on her offer.
The time had come. No more avoiding this shit. No more convincing myself it was fine.
This was the end.
“Kills me to do this, you gotta know that, but I’m gonna have to say no.”
It sounded like a line, a bullshit way to ease the rejection. I wanted to rip the words back, choke on them if I had to when I watched her face fall as they sank in. She thought I wasn’t interested. She honestly fucking thought I’d been coming in all this time for…what? The food? The atmosphere?
No, I’d been there day after day because she was the most magnificent thing I’d ever laid my eyes on and that didn’t even scratch the surface of all there was to her.
Turning down her sweet invitation burned through me in a way I knew the singed wasteland left behind would never be the same. But I couldn’t give her that. She’d push if I did, and I was too fucking weak to keep resisting.
“Oh,” she finally breathed in response. “That…that’s okay.”
It wasn’t. Not for her, with the disappointment she tried—and failed—to mask still showing in her eyes. Not for me, with the way it was actually physically painful to hold in all the words I wanted to give her to ease that damage I’d done.
It wasn’t okay in the fucking slightest, but it was the right thing to do.
“I’m not the man you should be offering that to,” I found myself saying. I should have just kept my mouth shut, taken the blow that was seeing her dejection, and gotten the fuck out. “Shit’s me to say it, but it’s the truth.”
The downturn of her lips, something I’d never seen before that moment, told me she didn’t believe a word of it even as she said, “Okay.”
As I sat there, watching her avoid looking at me, watching her chin tip down to her slender neck like she was trying to hide beneath her honey-colored hair, I fought the urge to say more. I wanted to talk until I was blue in the face if needed to make her understand, but doing so would be admitting too much.
Instead, I finally forced myself to do what I should have done months ago. I stood, slid the money closer to her for the bill, and I lied.
“I’ll see you soon, Evie.”
They were the same words I gave her every time I walked out the door, but it was the first time I said them with no intention of making them true.
Four months later, as the bars to the cell I’d be calling home for the next year and a half closed for the first time, that lie was the only thing in my head.