Chrome gleamed in the breezy day, a never ending wave undulating beneath the sunshine. The roar of the hundreds of motorcycle pipes set off a few car alarms, but no one seemed to care, least of all the citizens who lined the procession toward the church.
Kendall Miller laid her head against the back of John “Johnnie” Donovan, her arms tight around Johnnie’s waist, his Harley idling beneath them. He gripped the handlebars, his body tense, his heart beating hard.
Johnnie had gotten released from the hospital three days ago, having been shot less than a week ago by members of Kendall’s former boyfriend’s MC. Or, maybe, even, Spoon himself.
No matter. She wished Johnnie wouldn’t have to be here, in front of the church, his bike parked between the president of the Death Dwellers MC, Christopher “Outlaw” Caldwell, and the enforcer, Mortician. Sadness and somberness hung from them, but they sat in stoic silence, awaiting the arrival of their road captain, Val, delivering the body of the club treasurer, Kaleb Paul “Kitchen Patrol” Andrews, on a motorcycle hearse.
Next in the processional, the lone vehicle, a limousine containing K-P’s daughter, Bailey, and his recently-acquired and very distraught old lady, Dinah. And, behind the extra-long car, the surge of bikers, the rumbling pounding through Kendall’s brain.
Val rode into view, stopping at the edge of the rapidly growing double-sided rows of motorcycles as more of them backed into the places, spanning outside of the church parking lot and into the blocked off street.
A moment passed. Then another. And another. Grief threatened to overwhelm Kendall and she tempered the urge to scream at Val to ride to the church steps. He continued to wait, revving the engine at times, too far away for Kendall to detect his state of mind. If his emotions mirrored Johnnie’s, the man was devastated.
Finally, the reason for the delay walked into view. Bailey. Dressed in black leather pants and a black shirt, she stopped next to the hearse, her intention to walk alongside clear.
Kendall glanced at the club enforcer, watched his internal struggle. He cared about Bailey, but, if he went to her now, he was as good as claiming her as his. While Kendall understood that, she wanted to scream at him to ignore the stupid codes just this once. Bailey needed him right now. Later, Mortician could set her straight.
Val started forward at a slow speed, keeping pace with Bailey. As they passed each brother, they revved their engines in honor of K-P. Bailey stumbled and Val stopped to allow her to regain her composure.
A gust of wind whipped around them, the breeze cool. The affirmation of life sent tears rushing to her eyes and her heart twisted. In a couple of days, she’d have to face another funeral. Her sixteen-year-old sister’s. There would be no huge showing for her. Caroline had been one, small girl with only Kendall and their mother as relatives. She’d been popular in school, so Kendall suspected high school kids and teachers would attend. But nothing close to this overwhelming ceremonial rite.
It didn’t matter Caroline had been as much a victim as K-P. He’d been killed by Logan Donavan. Caroline had killed herself because of Logan Donovan.
He’d taken so much from all of them. Worse, he was her biker’s grandfather.
Val and Bailey began their advance again. She was closer now, her tears and heartbreak easier to glimpse. Mortician must’ve seen it, too. The club enforcer broke rank, pausing his bike next to the hearse.
With his back to her, Kendall couldn’t see if he spoke to Bailey or not. If he did, she didn’t say anything, only staring at him and blinking away her tears. Mortician sped off. A moment later, he roared back into sight and stopped next to the limousine. Once the man backed up, Mortician slid into place right behind Bailey. Palming her cheeks, she peeped over her shoulder, starting—as did Kendall—when the club enforcer held out his hand to her and gave her a small nod.
She didn’t hesitate, but turned and slipped behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist much like Kendall had her arms wrapped around Johnnie’s.
Johnnie glanced back, approval gleaming through the sadness in his eyes. At Mortician’s actions, she knew. He winked at her and her heartbeat picked up speed. They hadn’t spoken in a couple hours, not since they’d started from the funeral home and rode through town to get to the church, pausing twice for moments of silence.
Val stopped the hearse at the end of the steps and Mortician backed into the spot he’d vacated. The roar of the unmuffled bikes abruptly ceased. As one, Outlaw, Johnnie, Mortician, Digger and Stretch rose from their bikes. Outlaw adjusted the white gloves he wore—identical to the others’—then grabbed his wife, Megan’s, hand, guiding her behind the motorcycle with K-P’s remains. He nodded to Johnnie then did the same to Mortician, the cue for them to escort Kendall and Bailey to where Megan stood.
“In the middle, Bailey,” Outlaw instructed, frowning at Megan’s high heels but not saying anything.
Kendall supposed he didn’t want Megan wearing those types of shoes since she was pregnant. Kendall was pregnant, too, but no one seemed to worry about what she wore or didn’t wear.
Now flanking Bailey’s left side, Kendall grabbed the girl’s cold hand and gave it a squeeze. Death was never easy. Most especially a violent, unexpected death.
Val dismounted and took position at the coffin, second row, right side, behind Johnnie, who stood at the head along with Outlaw.
Worry consumed Kendall. The gleaming mahogany casket without K-P’s body weighed a lot. With him in there…she shook the morbid thought away, focused on Johnnie’s well-being. True, the gunshot wound had been superficial, but he’d needed surgery to remove it. He shouldn’t strain himself carrying a coffin.
Wasn’t undertakers supposed to do this? Kendall swore pallbearers were required to load a casket in the hearse—or in this case on it—and then carry it to the grave site. It shouldn’t have surprised her they did something out of the norm. These men lived by their own rules and damn anyone who didn’t like it.
The slow march into the church and down the aisle seemed to take forever. It didn’t help that Kendall fretted over Johnnie the entire way toward the front of the church.
Bailey half-sobbed and half-laughed and Kendall followed the girl’s line of vision to the floral arrangements and the three unusual ones—a spoon, a stove, and one that looked suspiciously like, of all things, an onion.
A blown up photo of K-P straddling his bike, the sun glinting off his bald head and silver beard, sat amidst the myriad flowers, the sickly sweet smell turning Kendall’s stomach.
Mortician stopped next to them. His dreads dangled from his ponytail, but his red-rimmed eyes looked tired. “Bailey, girl, c’mon. I’m gonna bring you to your seat.”
She looked over her shoulder again and her shoulders drooped. “Mom isn’t here yet and neither is Uncle Arrow.”
“Arrow is not far off,” Johnnie said, joining them in time to hear Bailey’s words. “Your mom…well, sweetheart…I don’t think she’s coming.”
“I don’t want to be on the pew alone. Not now.”
“Is there a problem here?” an authoritative voice broke in.
“Of course not, Father Wilkins,” Megan said smoothly. “We’re just deciding seating arrangements.
His jowls flapping, Father Wilkins gave Megan an under-eyed glare. “This doesn’t take much brain power to know family goes on the first pew, Mrs. Caldwell.” He smirked at her. “Ah, yes. In order to have brain power, you need a brain. I simply forgot who I’m dealing with for a moment.”
Johnnie scowled at the round, little man, and Mortician scratched his jaw. Before anyone responded, Outlaw tapped the priest on the shoulder. “Yo’, Father Wilcunt, you ain’t gonna have to worry ‘bout your fuckin’ brain in a minute. Insult Megan one more fuckin’ time, motherfucker, and your brain gonna be on the outside of your ass. Then you can tell us how the fuck real fuckin’ brainlessness is.”
“K-P’s funeral, Christopher,” Megan reminded him in a tight voice.
“Since putting you out isn’t an option—“ The priest said, anger flickering in his eyes.
“Not if you don’t want your ass beat—“ Christopher interrupted.
Johnnie took Kendall’s hand into his own and led her to the second pew, leaving the argument to Christopher and the priest.
“How are you, Kendall?” Johnnie asked her, gorgeous in anything he wore, but dressed in full colors and leather turned him into a sexy rogue. He sat next to her and sighed. “You’ve held up well this morning.”
Kendall kicked up her mouth in a forced smile. “I’m fine. Worried about you.”
“Don’t be.” He squeezed her hand, the edge removed from the words with the gesture.
“I can’t help it.”
Instead of responding, he said, “How’s Baby Biker?”
Baby Biker. Her name for the child growing inside of her, but her insides melted hearing him say it.
“Fine,” she whispered, shy, her nerves absurd. Lately, though, everything about her life was irrational, so why shouldn’t butterflies suddenly flutter in her belly and heat sweep her body at Johnnie’s words?
For the past three days, he’d been overwhelmed with all that took place in the previous week and working with the others, planning retaliation, Kendall was sure. He never discussed it with her. Mortician didn’t discuss it with her.
And neither did Megan Caldwell. Kendall wondered how much of the Dwellers’ activity was she aware? Kendall’s guess? A lot more than Kendall knew and a lot more than Megan let on. True, they’d gotten off on a bad footing—mainly because of Kendall—but Megan kept her distance, bristling whenever Kendall spoke to one of the guys or one of the guys showed Kendall attention.
Johnnie dropped her hand and stood. “Excuse me for a minute, Kendall.”
Tracking Johnnie’s movements to the back of the church, Kendall noted a frail looking, graying blonde woman. Dinah Nicholls. Megan’s mother and K-P’s old lady. Gripping her arm, Outlaw whispered something to her just as Johnnie reached her other side.
Whatever disagreement between Outlaw and Father Wilkins was solved because the priest was already on the altar, Bailey in her seat with Megan next to her.
Grief and hurt—too many emotions to name—assailed Kendall. She stood, needing a distraction and making her way to Bailey’s other side. Instead of sharing Bailey, Megan released the girl, popped to her feet and headed to her mother, who’d made it halfway down the aisle.
His chest burning, Johnnie swallowed back tears and handed the bottle of tequila to Val. It was almost time for the final goodbye to K-P. The pain spread to Johnnie’s gut. He almost wished the ache was related to the still healing gunshot wound, but he knew better.
He’d met K-P on his tenth birthday, a couple months shy of twenty-four years. One day, he was alive and at the clubhouse, daring anyone to fuck with Dinah and the next day, he was gone. Human like everyone else, not the invincible man Johnnie had chalked him up to be.
Christopher stepped forward, bottle back in hand, and took a final swig. He raised the bottle up. “To Kitchen Patrol,” he began before pausing because his voice broke. A tear slipped down his cheek and he heaved in a breath. “Fuck me.”
“C’mon, Prez,” Mortician encouraged, under his breath, standing next to Johnnie. “Get this shit done.”
Yes, get this shit done. If Christopher broke down, they’d all break down. Each one of them held the other up, so if one fell, they’d all crumble.
Kendall squeezed Johnnie’s arm, a silent sentinel at his side, observing how he was close to the edge of losing his shit. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her closer to him, glad for her presence.
“Why don’t you help him out?” she whispered, her warm breath fanning his ear.
He loved her height. In her bare feet, she was almost eye-level with him. He turned to her and whispered back, “I don’t know if I’ll do any better at keeping my composure than he is.”
Christopher had yet to speak again. He was standing there, frozen, staring at the casket. Megs stepped next to him and Johnnie realized she’d been lagging back in the crowd, for once out of her husband’s sight. He bent, so she could speak to him, always standing at Christopher’s side no matter what.
She’d been acting strangely for the past couple of days, though, and Johnnie couldn’t help but wonder why.
Christopher snickered at something Megs said and she responded with a tender smile.
“Never thought I’d be standin’ at K-P’s grave,” Christopher began slowly. “He was one of the finest brothers I knew. Even if the motherfucker liked you, he gave you shit. Next to him, we was all runts.” He sniffled, glanced up at the green tent ceiling before squeezing the bridge of his nose. “He loved onions. Never met a motherfucker who could eat raw onions like K-P.” He smiled again and nodded like he’d worked something out in his head. “You free, Kaleb Paul. Free to fly. Free to ride.”
Johnnie blinked in a futile attempt to stop his tears, but they were determined to flow, Christopher’s heartfelt words, unleashing the dammed grief.
Eyes and nose red, Christopher emptied the bottle of tequila into the grave, then handed it to Megan, removing his white gloves and tossing them in the gaping hole. One by one, they followed suit and flung their gloves. Johnnie. Val. Mortician. Digger. Stretch. And the rest of the brothers who’d attended.
By the time Johnnie reached his Harley, Christopher and Megan were already mounted on Christopher’s bike. Now, they only had to wait for the rest of the brothers so they could rev their engines in unison for one, final display.