A few days after Chaser returns from his trip, the band calls the clubhouse looking for him. He needs to be back in Hollywood. Even though I seem to be fitting in fine with his MC family, I’m terrified he’ll suggest I shouldn’t return to California with him.
Before I can spend too much time dwelling on it, we’re summoned into Stump’s office.
“What’s the plan, son?” he asks before either of us take a seat.
“We need to head back for the video premiere.” He stares his father dead in the eyes, daring a challenge. “I can’t put it off any longer.”
Oh, thank God.
“You gonna let me know when that is, so we can have a party here to see it?” Stump asks.
For such a hard man, Stump’s proud of his son’s success. Even though he claims to hate Kickstart’s music, he supports Chaser’s dream. He has an odd way of showing how much he cares about his son’s happiness—but he does.
Chaser shakes his head. “Not if you’re gonna call me up and make fun of the nut-huggers they stuffed me into for the shoot.”
Stump roars with laughter. “Can’t wait.”
After the laughter dies down, Stump turns more serious.
“Mallory, where’s the money you stole from your father?”
I grit my teeth at the word stole. “I brought a couple thousand with me, but most of it’s in a safe deposit box in LA.”
“How much are we talking?”
“How much did they accuse me of taking?” I counter.
Next to me, Chaser shakes with barely concealed laughter.
“Twenty-five K,” Stump answers with a smirk.
I manage to smother my laughter. Nearly double that amount came with me to L.A. I went through a lot of it when I first arrived, but I have enough to cover what they claim I owe.
“How do we arrange the payback?”
Stump slowly raises an eyebrow. “You have the full amount?”
I lift my shoulders in a quick, casual shrug. “It’s my emergency fund. I only used a little for the security deposit on my apartment.”
“Which you’re probably not getting back thanks to the asshole who came after you.” Chaser gives his father a pointed look. “Tell them she’ll return the twenty-five minus the deposit.”
Stump glares at his son for a second. “These pricks were looking for some hefty interest. I talked them out of that.”
“Charge me their insane interest rates for borrowing my own father’s money? Assholes.” I swallow down the remainder of my outrage. Nothing surprises me anymore.
As usual, Stump’s amused by my moxie instead of annoyed. “I’ll give you the information and when you return to LA, you’re going to need to wire them the money.”
Relieved I don’t have to actually meet with any of my father’s men, I agree to the plan. “I can do that.”
“Good girl,” Stump praises. “Now, I need a moment with my son.”
He lifts his chin, indicating it’s time for me to get lost.
Instead of being offended, I’m relieved.
Chaser squeezes my hand on my way out.
My father stares at the door until Mallory closes it behind her.
“You can’t go back to her apartment,” he warns.
“I got them to agree to leave her alone—for now. But I don’t trust Vasily to stick to the agreement.”
He slides open his top desk drawer and pulls out a fat envelope. “You know I’m proud of you, son, right?” he asks.
Not expecting this change in conversation, I nod.
I must be too slow to answer because he scowls at me. “Well, I am. And your mom would be proud of you too. Your musical talent—that’s all from her.”
I swallow hard, knowing what a sore subject this is for my father.
“I respect you wanting to make it on your own out there. Living in that shithole apartment with the guys as your act of rebellion. Doing whatever.” He stops and glances at the door again. “You’re responsible for someone else now. You can’t have that sweet girl living with you and three other guys in that rat-infested shoebox.”
It’s not like I haven’t already considered that I need a more suitable living environment for Mallory.
He pushes the envelope across the desk. “This is your take of the last run, plus a bonus. Use it to find a place worthy of your girl.”
My father doesn’t normally give hand-outs. Even as a kid, if I wanted money, I had to earn it. Mowing lawns, washing bikes, you name it, I did it. This is different. It’s not about my pride or work ethic anymore. It’s about keeping my girl safe.
I take the envelope and slip it in the inside pocket of my cut. “Thank you. After this video, we’re supposed to do a tour. Record company’s gonna pay us peanuts, but we’re hoping if the album does well, they’ll give us a larger advance for the next one.”
He grunts in response. We’ve never really discussed just how long I plan to stay in California chasing this dream. Or when I plan to return home and assume my role in the club full time. Every time the band has to meet with the suits, I think my return home will be sooner than later. Nights when I’m playing on stage, I never want to leave LA.
“I spoke to Torrin. You have any problems out there, you call him and the club will be there, no questions.”Our club has a chapter in Northern California. As a sign of respect, I’ve visited their clubhouse several times. I’ve never called in a favor though. Keeping band life separate from club life seemed like the smart choice. But for Mallory’s safety, I’ll definitely make that call if I need to.
“Will do. Did you explain the situation?”
“Yeah. He can’t wait to meet Mallory.”
His way of hinting that I best get my ass up to that clubhouse and show their president some respect.
“I’m sure she’ll love it up there.”
He snorts and sis back. “Not gonna lie, I’ll miss having you around, son.”
“Aw, shit. You’re not gonna cry on me, old man. Are you?”
“Get the fuck out of here, ingrate.”
“My dad says we’re safe for travel,” Chaser says after he leaves his secret meeting with his father.
“How? How does he know?”
“Trust me, he knows everything. Your man Vasily returned home. But they’re setting up a cell in Northern Cali, so we’ll want to avoid that area.”
“Okay.” I’m still not convinced. Vasily and the rest of my father’s men are relentless. If they want their money back they won’t stop looking for me.
“You can’t go back to your apartment, though.”
“I kind of figured.”
He snorts and settles his hands on my shoulders. “You’re perfect for me, you know that?”
He shakes his head and doesn’t answer my question.
The ride back to California sucks just as bad as the one home had. By day two, my ass is numb.
The band’s in the middle of a wild party when we arrive at the apartment. I’m too exhausted to care. I just want to sleep. Chaser leads us past his place and up another flight of stairs. “Where are we going?”
“We can’t stay with those pigs. I rented the unit above.”
A tired smile curves his mouth. “Through the magic of the telephone and the promise of money.”
“You borrowed money from your father to get us an apartment?” On our trip, I learned how important it is for him to succeed on his own. How much he wants his music to be separate from the club. I can’t think of any words to express my gratitude.
He shrugs as if it’s no big deal. “Yeah. It’s nothing near what you deserve, princess. But it’s ours,” he says as he slaps his hand against the front door.
This apartment is in better condition than the one the guys share downstairs. But it’s got an old, sweaty sneaker smell that makes my nose twitch.
“Christ,” he mutters as he opens a window and takes in the empty room. “Guess we’ll need to go furniture shopping.”
The bedroom has a mattress and even some clean sheets thrown on top. “ Jacob and Chipmunk must love us after all.”
“Get some rest. I gotta run downstairs and talk to the guys. You ready for the show tomorrow night?”
“I think so.”
“Valerie said she found you a hot outfit. Something red and leather. I can’t wait to see you in it.”
The hungry gleam in his eyes washes away my nervousness over whatever outfit his manager has picked out for me.
Is it good or bad that my agent and Kickstart’s manager have been conspiring together while we were hiding out?