Book 7 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
The fierce twin.
The dark brother.
The wild one.
I don’t give a damn about labels. I never have. Not when it comes to me. But stay the hell away from my brothers. All of them. I’ve sacrificed a lot for them, and I’m more than willing to give a lot more.
If my blood, sweat, tears, and life were needed, I’d give it all up. Every damn drop. For my brothers, there was nothing I wouldn’t lose.
Reckless, ferocious, and seemingly born to match me in temperament and spirit, Hellspawn is not the fragile flower they all think she is. I don’t think she ever has been. She will not be left behind, she will not hide, and she will not take the crap that life has been throwing at her.
She’s saved our lives, defended us, fought for us, and sacrificed herself for us. I have no questions about what she would do if they tried to leverage us against her. This is why I won’t allow anyone to put her to that test. She has nothing to prove to us.
She’s a Vandal.
My name is Liam O’Connell. Hellspawn is mine. Emersyn is ours. We aren’t going to wait around for the next attack. No, we’re taking the fight right to them.
Book 7 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
The hum of the engine vibrated through me where I sprawled on the bed in the back of the cab. Jasper had insisted on a solid eight hours of sleep on our last break. While I was pretty sure he hadn’t slept more than three hours, the other five had been very enthusiastic.
“Gonna pull off up here for coffee, Swan,” he said in a husky, sex-drenched voice that sent shivers through me. “The restrooms are clean, and secure. We can also shower if you want.”
Stretching a bare leg out and propping my foot against the passenger seat, I grinned. “We?”
His soft chuckle confirmed what I’d heard. “Yes, ma’am. If you’re getting naked anywhere, I’ll be right there. Security first.”
Rolling onto my side, I propped my head up on my fist. “Well, never let it be said I’m not security-minded. I promised Kellan I would follow all the rules.”
“All of them?” The level of suggestion in his tone just made me grin wider. “Remind me to thank Kellan when I get back.”
“I’ll thank him for both of us if you want…”
“Damn,” he exhaled the word. “You know, I think we may be a little late getting back on this run.”
I was still laughing as I sat up and looked around for where my clothes had landed. When Kellan first suggested that I go with Jasper on this run, I was a little concerned about the why. Since Bodhi’s surprise appearance and the news about my mother, it had been one of the only things I could think about.
Saving Mom was already on the list, but no one was willing for me to go to the facility where she was being kept. Not even as her daughter. Especially not as her daughter. The only people behind her being committed had to be Dad or Uncle Bradley.
I could understand their concern, yet it didn’t change the fact that I was worried about her. I’ve been worried about her for a while, and a little afraid. The questions of if she knew, what she knew, and when she knew it—they were all there.
But she was still my mom. She’d still wanted me and been on my side. Maybe it was foolish to hold onto that thought…
I blinked the tears then swiped my hand over my face to erase the evidence that splashed to my cheeks. “I’m here.” I cleared my throat. “Did you throw my clothes up there?”
He cut a glance toward me. “Behind you… and what’s wrong?”
A wet laugh escaped me as I twisted and turned to find my clothes. He really had just tossed them up and over. “I was thinking about my mom. Then…” Shaking out my t-shirt, I tugged it over my head. I had no idea where the bra was, but I could find it later.
I used a wipe to clean up a little before I pulled on my panties and finally wiggled into the jeans, then climbed down into the passenger seat.
“Then?” he prompted as he passed me water.
Uncapping the bottle, I stared out the window at the scattered traffic ahead. Despite all the shows I’d done and the scant number of hours on a tour bus, this was honestly my first time in an 18-Wheeler.
I liked it.
Thrusting a hand under my hair, I lifted it out of my shirt collar and leaned back, bare feet propped against the dashboard. “Then I wondered if I should be worrying. Bodhi brought us the information almost a week ago, and we haven’t done anything yet.”
With a sigh, I tilted my head back.
“And that sounded like a complaint.” With all they did for me, how hard was a little patience?
“It was a complaint,” Jasper said without irony or recrimination. “You’re allowed to complain, Swan. It’s not going to bother me or anyone else.”
I cast a smile at him, and he brushed his fingers down my cheek. Too soon, my smile faded. “What if I’m wrong about her?” I didn’t think I was. I didn’t want to be wrong.
“Then you find out,” Jasper told me, his voice never once wavering. “Parents don’t have to be perfect for us to love them. They can be weak, and they can be frail. They can be mean sons of bitches too. Does it make us less for loving them?”
Twisting a little in the seat, I stared at him. “You are not the one I would pick for the philosopher.”
His snort delighted me; it was so derisive. “I’m not a philosopher. I’m a student of life, and I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
Yes, he did have scars. The thought sobered me. Two of those scars were still healing and even though Doc had taken him off restrictions, he was still supposed to take it easy. Not that it slowed him down.
Before I could respond, he reached over to catch my hand. “Emersyn, you are allowed to love her. Now, the question of whether you can trust her is one we need to answer, but we will get her out for you and you can have the time to figure out what you need to figure out.”
I squeezed his hand. “You guys do so much for me.”
“Not enough,” he said, the rumble in his voice deepening. “Not soon enough, either.”
Cheek pressed to the seat, I studied the hard lines of his profile. A fierce expression had taken up residence there as he scowled through the windshield.
“Jasper,” I murmured, and the corner of his mouth curved.
“You don’t have to comfort me.”
Really? I raised my eyebrows. “You didn’t have to save me either.”
That got me a growl as he cut those stormy gray eyes at me. “That’s not funny.”
“Neither is you being upset about something you didn’t know about, nor could have changed…” I sighed. This was not where I’d seen this conversation going while my body was still humming from his touch after our last break.
“It was our job to protect you,” he argued. “We’ve always agreed to that being our task from the moment they adopted you, and we wanted to keep track of you. Be able to be there whenever you needed us. Not that…” It was his turn to trail off.
He’d released my hand and put both of his on the steering wheel, where the knuckles went white.
“No one saw what was happening,” I told him as gently as I could. “No one was allowed to know, I learned that very young. The only people I ever told… they died.”
He flexed his fingers on the steering wheel. This was not a conversation I’d had with him yet. The others knew, but they weren’t revealing it until I was ready. While Jasper had been wounded, I’d been worried about telling him.
Wounded or not, I was actually scared to tell him. I didn’t know what he would do. Of all of them, Jasper’s temper had seemed the worst. He’d been almost volcanic when I first showed up.
Yet beneath all the glares, scowls, and harsh words was a powerful heart with a deep-set loyalty that threaded his core. His fury with Liam had been about perceived betrayal and his fight with Milo was over the loss of him, coupled with the idea that Milo didn’t want me with any of them.
It put Jasper in a harsh place. Then the day Jasper asked me if the idea of them torturing Eric turned me on, and well, yeah—it definitely had. “I want to tell you something,” I said slowly. “It’s a story about me, my family, and why I’m worried…”
Opening the water bottle, I took a longer, deeper drink of it. I almost wished it was alcohol. Or a cigarette. Or… just about anything to steady my nerves.
“I’m listening,” he offered and the rumble in his voice faded to something lower, earthier. “You can tell me anything, Swan.”
“I know I can.” That much had been clear. Even when they hated every word, they’d all been willing to listen and to hear me. Even when we fought. Maybe especially when we fought. “I like fighting with you,” I told him, the thought taking form and seeing no reason to hold it hostage. He deserved to know all the things I liked about him.
About all of them.
He snorted a laugh and flicked a look toward me. “Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind the next time you frustrate me.”
That just made me chuckle, cracking some of the ice sliding into my bloodstream. Anytime I thought about my uncle, the chill was almost immediate. It was like something out of a horror movie. I half-expected to see my breath frosting in the air.
No matter how ridiculous the thought, I always worried he was just a step behind me. That he would know what I said or when I said it. That he would take another ally or friend from me.
“I’m serious,” I said after a beat.
“That you like to fight with me?” The teasing note pulled a laugh from me.
“No… I mean yes, I do like fighting with you, although what I need to tell you now… it’s not something I want to fight about. Can you listen to me without reacting? Or should we wait until we’re somewhere for the night?”
Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up now. We were on a long haul and we weren’t supposed to be breaking for another hour. Or maybe sooner. He’d brought up coffee and a shower.
“Emersyn.” So much affection and feeling bound up in my name, holding me in place. “It’s fine. Whatever it is, we’ll handle it. If you need me to not lose my temper. I won’t. But since this is tying you up in knots, I want you to tell me so I can fix it.”
They all wanted to fix things for me. It wasn’t that easy, but it also wasn’t impossible. The Vandals made my life better, and they had been improving it from the day he walked into my dressing room and replaced the lock.
“Eric wasn’t the first person to ever assault me,” I said, ripping the Band-Aid off. “My relationship with him wasn’t even an assault, to begin with…just a mistake made from the need to take control of my life.”
A sigh whooshed out of me.
“Not just my life, but my body.”
His knuckles whitened more. Dragging my gaze off his hands, I focused on the set of his jaw. He’d been growing his beard back in, much to my delight, but it wasn’t quite as soft as it had been before.
At least not yet.
“I have a hard time talking about this,” I admitted. “But I’ve been getting stronger. Part of that is all of you. You make me stronger.” It was more than that. “You also make me want to be stronger.”
That was part of it. I wanted to protect them too. As vibrant and powerful as they all were, they were also vulnerable. They all had their own demons, dark pasts, and trials. They also had a lot to lose from helping me.
Not once had it slowed them down.
Not from helping me escape Eric. From eliminating Eric. From protecting me from the bounty hunters who came looking. From the other gangs around their life. They didn’t live a safe existence, although they took the additional threats posed by my presence in stride.
“I’ve been working on this, talking about it. I used to think if I said anything it would make it real. Not that keeping it a secret changed how much I hated it.” I licked my lips, then picked at the corner on one of my nails. The bit of dry skin there held my attention. “The hardest part is that I knew what was happening was wrong and that I should have asked for help, but I didn’t know how. All I knew was I needed to get away and then I thought I had…”
It was coming out all jumbled. It wasn’t until Jasper pulled off the highway into a rest area and stopped the truck that I realized I was shaking. He twisted in the seat and captured my hands in his.
“Don’t you have to tell them you’re taking a break?”
“They can wait,” he said firmly. He cut a glance at the side mirrors and then tightened his hands on mine. “Tell me what has you so terrified.”
I wanted to apologize for even bringing it up. I’d been looking for the time to tell him and Liam. They were only the two, along with Milo, who didn’t know. Their reactions worried me.
However, I’d already pulled at this scab and as with each of the earlier retellings, it came out easier. I told him about my uncle. I kept my gaze fixed on our hands as I explained what happened.
The tears took longer to come this time. So did the shame. It didn’t matter how much this wasn’t my fault, a part of me would always feel complicit. I kept what my uncle was doing to myself. I hadn’t told my parents.
The very small handful of people I’d ever confessed it to had ended up dead. The doctor had been the last one I’d tried to tell. She’d been so kind and caring. She’d helped put me back together, then she was going to go to the authorities. A few days later she died in a car crash.
After that, I learned to say nothing. I could endure anything, and I doubled up my training. The more I stayed on the road, the more likely I was to stay away from him. It didn’t always work…
“…but I didn’t know what else to do until you guys took me.”
Then, and only then, did I lift my gaze to meet Jasper’s. The depth of emotion in the storm of his eyes staggered me. Fury lived there, only it was more than fury. There was a wild tangle of love and worry present.
“You were scared to tell me?”
“Terrified,” I admitted. “I thought you would go after him.”
“Oh, I’m definitely going after that piece of shit,” Jasper said, his voice dipping softer as he held my gaze. “We’re going to make him regret being born, but that’s for later. Right now is about you.”
The tears I’d been fighting spilled over as relief flooded me.
“Were you really that scared to tell me?” At my nod, he let out a huff of sound then dragged me out of the seat and over to his.
“Fuck my side, Swan. You need a hug and I need to hug you.” He wrapped around me and I burrowed into him.
“I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” I admitted. “It was already too close when you were shot.”
“We’re going to be fine, Swan,” he told me. “Trust us. We’ve got this.”