“Sorry,” Rebecca apologized, and their voices quieted. I sat and watched as the slowly moving line of vehicles inched forward. After a few minutes, Anna touched my shoulder.
“Mom wants to talk to you again.”
I took the phone and held it to my ear, speaking quietly. “Hey, feeling better?”
“Thank you so much,” she said, and it sounded like she was crying. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough. I think this has been the worst day of my life. I can’t believe it all happened so fast.”
“How’s your aunt?”
“It’s been awful,” she told me. “We had to evacuate faster than planned, and nothing went right. Aunt Ruby boards horses—there were twelve of them on the farm, but her trailer only carries eight. We managed to load six before the sheriff pulled up and told us to get out while we still could.”
“We turned them loose,” she said sadly. “Hopefully they’ll make it. Farmers up and down the valley are setting their livestock free and hoping for the best.”
“So I guess we’ll see you in Okanogan?” I asked.
“Yes. I’ll get the girls from you, and then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Love you,” I said.
“Love you, too. Drive safe.”
We met up with Carrie in the Safeway parking lot in Okanogan.
The twins tackle-hugged her, and then she tackle-hugged Tinker. Everyone seemed to be crying, but I was just relieved we’d made it out of there. Pulling out my phone, I walked around the side of the truck for some privacy, then checked my messages.
There was a text from Pic saying they’d arrived safe, and that they’d be heading out for Coeur d’Alene soon. That one had come through an hour ago. I messaged him back.
ME: In Okanogan. Grabbing food and then we start for CDA. Please have the girls pull together some things for Tinker her dad and her neighbor lady.
Suddenly someone hit me from behind, arms wrapping tight around my body in a powerful squeeze. My instincts were to slam the attacker against the truck, but somehow I managed to control myself long enough to realize she wasn’t a threat.
“Thank you,” Carrie sobbed against my back. “Thank you so much for saving my babies. I was so scared, but I knew Tinker would get them out. And you helped her. I’m so sorry for the way I hated you and thought you were horrible. I don’t care who you are. All I care is that my babies are alive and I will never, ever forget what you did today.”
For such a tiny little thing she was strong, and it took me a couple seconds to pry her hands free. Then I turned toward her and got a second hug, this one head on. Tinker stood just behind her, tears streaming down her face.
“We made it out,” she said, holding my gaze. “Thank you, Gage.”
“You’d have made it out without me,” I told her. She shrugged.
“I’d like to think so,” she said, and she sounded exhausted. “But the fact is, when I needed you, you were there.”
“That’s what we do,” I said simply.
“The Reapers,” I answered. “When we need each other, we’re there. And you’re with me, now. Tinker. You never need to be alone again.”
Carrie loosened her grip, pulling away. “I think you’re hugging the wrong woman.”
Tinker smiled, then stepped toward me as I pulled her into my arms. For what might’ve been the first time in her life, Carrie showed some discretion and walked about around the truck to give us some privacy. I leaned down, smelling her hair.
Smoke this time. No peaches.
“Did all that really happen?” Tinker asked against my chest. “It’s like something out of a movie.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it happened,” I said, although I knew what she meant. The day felt like some strange nightmare, unconnected from reality.
“Now what do we do?” she asked, looking up at me. “Carrie and Darren are heading to stay with relatives in Spokane. If you’re driving back to Coeur d’Alene, would you be willing to drop us off there? She doesn’t have much room in the car. It’s full of stuff from her aunt’s place.”
“Hell, no,” I told her, narrowing my eyes. “You’re coming home with me. I already messaged the club—they’ll pull together everything you need. You’ll stay in Coeur d’Alene at my place until it’s safe to go home.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I mean, I know we’ve slept together a few times, but—”
Leaning down, I caught her lips in a hard kiss, driving my tongue deep because the woman obviously shouldn’t be allowed to talk any more, not if she planned on staying crazy shit like that. The kiss wasn’t long enough, not even close, but by the time I pulled back her eyes were dazed and her lips were swollen.
“We’re going to Coeur d’Alene,” I told her. “And then we’ll figure shit out. Got it?”
Tinker nodded, then gave me a slow smile.
“Got it,” she whispered, and I kissed her again.
• • •
It took an hour to get everyone transferred and settled. Tom and Mary Webbly were both exhausted, so we pulled out the bunk and let them sleep while we went shopping for some food for the road. The store was full of refugees, and everywhere I looked I saw the exhausted faces of people I’d met over the past few weeks. Then we climbed back into the truck and pulled out, Tinker collapsing on the seat next to me, her face drawn and tight even in sleep.
Fuck, I thought, watching as the yellow stripes of the highway disappeared behind us. Driving this thing was like driving a tank.
I was really gonna miss my bike.
Of course, I’d have missed Tinker a hell of a lot more, and there was a Harley dealership in Spokane full of bikes just like mine, and some a whole lot nicer. Reaching over, I touched her hair, running my fingers through it. God, she was beautiful.
Yeah, fuck the bike. All I needed was right here.
ONE WEEK LATER
I sat outside on Gage’s deck, watching as a flock of wild turkeys wandered below me on the hillside. I’d been enchanted the first time I saw them, until I smelled their shit. It was rotten, like something dead. Not only that, cleaning it up was a real bitch. The stuff was so sludgy that you couldn’t scoop it, but way too solid to spray off with the hose.