The Sons are back, baby.

With a book that is so close to my heart. I think all of my readers who have been with me from the beginning will notice how different this book is. I know this book is written rather unconventionally. I was extremely scared to write it, but I had no choice in the matter. The characters were calling to me and I had to answer. There is so much pain in this book. A lot of my own. But there is hope, love and a HEA too. I will reccomend wine, chocolate and tissues to get you through. I’m so happy I was strong enough to write this book. To publish it. I hope you all love it.

I’ve decided to give you a little taste of what you’re going to get with this book by posting the prologue and first two chapters below. This book is set up in two parts, ‘before’ and ‘after’. It follows one of the lesser known secondary characters, Lizzie. You met her in Making the Cut and a lot of people have wondered about her. The good news is, you don’t have to wonder anymore. The bad news is, her story might break your heart.

You can buy it here.

To the moon.




This story doesn’t have a happy ending.

It’s better I tell you that now.

I’m a sucker for happy endings, there’s a romantic inside of me that has refused to die, even after all these years. Even after being married to a man who was patched in to one of the deadliest MCs in the country. There was nothing romantic about it, despite what popular culture likes to tell you.

Especially during those bloody years. Before the club steered in a more legitimate direction.

There were losses. Deep cuts that left me with my scars of my own. Wounds I helped my husband tend to. The husband who wore a Sons of Templar MC cut.

He was buried in that cut.

But that’s jumping to the end of the story before hearing about the beginning. Which is good. Because now you know what’s waiting for you at the end of this story.

You can make the choice to escape all of this pain, loss and grief. The choice I couldn’t make.

Chapter One

“Can I carry your books for you?”

I looked up and lost my breath.

He was standing there staring at me like such a request was commonplace. Like it was normal for Cody flipping Derrick to ask me, Lizzie Kirkpatrick, to carry her books.

And he didn’t even give me time to answer—like my answer would be anything but a dreamy yes once I regained the ability to speak. He just leaned forward, smelling like body spray and hair gel, and took them out of my arms.

Took my books out of my arms.

Our bare skin brushed for half a second, and my whole face warmed as I blushed. My whole body seemed to blush.

He grinned, flashing teeth that were white and almost straight if not for one crooked tooth making that smile something other than perfect.

Something beautiful.

“English next, right?” he asked.

Again, he didn’t give me time to answer, he just turned and walked in the direction of my English classroom. I was so shocked I just stood there, like an idiot, watching him walk away with an armful—and he had more than capable arms—of my books. He didn’t look back, of course. He was Cody flipping Derrick. He didn’t need to look back. Not with those burnt caramel eyes, those muscled arms, broad shoulders, and five o’clock shadow that he’d had for the past year. Though we were only a couple of months into his last year of school, he’d already turned eighteen.

I slammed my locker shut and jogged to catch up with him. Because of my slow reaction, we were already halfway to my English class which meant I’d wasted precious time.

Cody grinned at me as I fell into step with him. That grin. It was cheeky, genuine and hot as balls. Everything about him was hot as balls. He had really freaking good genes. He hadn’t gone through that awkward, teenage phase, all gangly limbs and acne. I knew that because I’d known Cody all my life, and I’d crushed on him since I could remember.

We were friends, even though he was one grade above me. Amber was a small town, and there were few kids our age, so most parties were a mishmash of about three different grades. There wasn’t exactly a hierarchy at our high school either. No ‘popular’ kids, jocks or nerds. No cliques. People were raised different here, maybe.

“You look pretty today,” Cody said as I walked beside him mutely, trying to figure out something to say.

His words hit me almost as hard as the sideways glance he sent me. The one that made my insides all melty. A good quarter of the girl’s hearts at this school were his because of that melty look. The other three quarters were spread amongst Cade Fletcher, Brock and Zane—despite the fact that Zane and Laurie had been going steady since forever.

They were all in my grade, and Laurie was one of my closest friends, which meant I was around Zane, Brock and Cade a lot. Zane only had eyes for Laurie, but Brock and Cade had eyes for everyone.

They did not seem like they had any interest in going steady with anyone, working their way through the beautiful girls in our school.

I’d never really considered myself beautiful. Cute? Sure. But my boobs hadn’t seemed to have gotten the memo that I was a young woman, I had too many freckles, and my hair was a dirty kind of blonde that couldn’t be described as anything but plain.

I was good with makeup. Skilled at adding a light touch that emphasized my eyes and lips, my two best features. I loved fashion, and I’d gone through all sorts of phases in high school, usually inspired by movies or books I was reading at the time. I was currently in my Edie Sedgwick phase, so today I was wearing a  swing dress and over the knee boots. My earrings almost touched my shoulders.

Suffice it to say, my father had raised his brows at breakfast this morning, but as was his way, he left it to my mother to say something. Luckily, she had long given up on trying to make me into a little pastel wearing daughter.

She had just sighed, handed me coffee and complimented my earrings.

I looked kick-ass.

And I knew it. Sure, I might not have been the prettiest girl in the school, but I had the best style. The kind other girls complimented but guys definitely didn’t understand.

But here was Cody Derrick, calling me pretty. Which, in my opinion, was much better than calling someone ‘hot’.

A flush crawled to my forehead. “Ah, thank you,” I said awkwardly.

He grinned wider, his eyes flickering up and down my body. “Like the boots.”

Something about the way he said that electrified me. His words travelled all the way up my legs and… right there. Most of my girlfriends had already lost their virginity. I wanted to. Had no illusions about the first time being special or romantic. I was well aware that it was going to be sloppy, painful and awkward, no matter who I was doing with it. And there had been plenty of chances. Parties where I was drunk enough to make out with some guy who would’ve jumped at the chance to get laid.

But I was never drunk enough to let stuff go past second base.

Because I was waiting. Like an idiot. I was waiting for Cody Derrick to notice me, really notice me. I was waiting even though I knew I’d never get what I wanted but wasn’t ready to give up the fantasy just yet. It happened in the romance novels I’d been devouring since I was fourteen. Yes, they were just books—trash if you listened to my mother, which I didn’t since she considered Good Housekeeping to be fine literature—but they had to be based on something, right?

“Why are you walking me to class?” I asked instead of addressing the comment about my boots and the fact that his eyes had caressed my legs as he did so.

He stopped just shy of my English classroom, not making a move to give me my books back. I glanced toward the classroom where Laurie and Zane were making out right in front of the doorway, not seeming to notice that there was anyone else in their vicinity, or anyone else in the world, maybe. That was typical of those two. They belonged in a romance novel. It was hard to believe what they had—that kind of love wasn’t meant for teenagers. It felt adult, forever. And that was just based on what I saw from the sidelines.

My gaze moved from them because my head moved. Cody’s thumb and finger were gently touching my chin, moving it so I was looking at him again.

Every inch of my skin flamed with that single, gentle touch. He was doing it casually, like he touched me every day, like it was natural.

“Because in those boots, someone else is gonna to try and do a lot more than just walk you to class,” he said, voice rough. “And then I’ll have to do something like pick a fight with a guy who I have no problem with beyond the fact that he’s stupid enough to think he can walk you to class.”

I blinked. Cody wasn’t exactly a man of few words like Cade was. He was boisterous, funny, loud and conversational. Confident. But he had never spoken to me like that before.

“Okay, that is not an answer. Nor does it make sense. Like, not even for a second,” I said. “My boots are cute, for sure. But not that cute.” I waved my hands between us then glanced at the class that was slowly filling up, not wanting to be late. I wasn’t exactly the ‘good girl’, but I didn’t like getting in trouble either. I’d tried to balance out going to parties and getting drunk while telling my mother that I was at a sleepover by keeping my grades up and not getting in trouble at school. I still wanted to go to college, after all. I had to go to college. My parents never let me forget that they’d worked hard and sacrificed many things in order to get my college fund to its current balance. And as much as my mom pissed me off, I didn’t want to disappoint her. Or my father. Especially my father.

Cody grinned. “That cute?” he repeated, waving his free hand between us, still holding my books hostage. And he was holding me hostage with that smile.

I bit my lip. I would definitely be the last one in class now. It bothered me. Slightly. But not enough to move. Not enough to actually do anything about it. No, I would stay right here, feeling awkward, excited, happy and aroused for as long as Cody was grinning at me.

I scowled, or at least tried to. Wasn’t I meant to play hard to get? Willow, my best friend, had assured me that such things were vital in getting a guy interested, and most importantly, to get a guy to stay interested. She should know. She was never single for longer than twenty-four-hours, and in a town as small as ours, that was impressive.

“You know what I mean,” I replied, folding my arms.

To my annoyance, he smiled even wider at my tone which was meant to sound snotty and superior. Then again, I didn’t exactly have much experience being snotty or superior. I was—I liked to believe—a nice person.

“I do know what you mean,” he agreed.

He didn’t say anything else.

Maybe this was some kind of game of emotional chicken. Whoever spoke first would lose the upper hand. Willow always talked about the upper hand.

So I waited. It was uncomfortable. Cody was just standing there, staring at me, acting like the situation wasn’t weird at all. I tried not to fidget, but it was hard when the guy you’ve been crushing on since forever stares at you like that.

The halls were empty now, no stragglers, no giggling, laughing, shoving or hurrying to class. Even Zane and Laurie had detached. Aside from the slight murmur coming from my soft-spoken English teacher, nothing could be heard. Other than that, dead silence. Although Cody’s presence had a sound. His smile echoed through the halls of my mind.

I swallowed roughly, my palms starting to get clammy. That was not cute. No matter how important it was to play hard to get, to win at emotional chicken—or whatever the heck this was—I wasn’t going to get a tardy slip and turn into a sweating mess in front of Cody.

“Are you going to give me back my books?” I asked, unable to stand the silence any longer.

His smile went away. He looked more serious now, as serious as I’d ever seen Cody Derrick look, at least. “Only if you promise I’m gonna carry them from now on.”

I blinked. Slowly. Just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. But no, Cody was still here. “Why would you want to carry my books around?”

“Because, babe, I want you. And in this high school, me carrying your books is just one of the ways I can communicate that you’re mine. I’ll be doing that in other ways too. Especially if you’ve got more of those boots.”

Holy. Crap.

He just said all of that. No one talked like that in real life, did they? Sure, they did in books, but most of those books were written by women putting their wishes of how they wanted men to talk to them down on paper.

Before I could figure how to get my breath back, how to reply to such a statement, my books were back in my arms, my arms grasping them on reflex more than anything. Cody got close enough to smell, proving that he wore the same body spray that most of the boys in his grade wore, but mixed with something that smelled different and uniquely him.

“I’ll be waiting for you outside class,” he said. “We’ll go get shakes. Then I’ll take you home. Talk to your dad if he’s home. If not, I can do that tomorrow night. But for now, I don’t want you getting in trouble for being late.”

“Why do you want to talk to my dad?” I asked, grasping on to one thread of what he’d just said because I didn’t think I was capable of handling the rest in one sitting.

“Plan on doin’ this the right way, Lizzie,” he replied. “Your dad will likely respect his daughter’s first boyfriend more if I come up, shake his hand and promise him I’ll take care of his daughter. Your dad gotta shotgun?”

I slowly shook my head. My dad was large, gruff man of few words. He was also a pacifist who did not believe in violence. My mother, on the other hand, owned a gun. I wasn’t about to tell him that, though.

“Good, wouldn’t wanna get shot before I can even take you on a date,” he smirked, guiding me toward the door to the class I was incredibly late to.

I followed, on instinct maybe or because I already couldn’t stand to be away from him.

“I’ll see you, babe,” he said with a wink followed by a lingering glance to my boots before he walked away. I watched him for too long, making me even later to class. But the disapproving look from my teacher nor the curious ones from my classmates didn’t affect me.

I was too busy reliving that entire interaction in my head. The one where Cody said the word boyfriend.

* * *

It wasn’t complicated.

Not at first.

It was almost like my romance books. Cody treated me with respect, like I was the most precious thing in his world. Like Zane treated Laurie.

Cody was true to his word. He came to my house and spoke to my father with no visible nerves. Then again, it wasn’t my mild mannered, quiet and kind father he had to worry about. It was my constantly disapproving, not at all quiet, judgmental mother.

Somehow, he handled both with ease. My father looked to me when they started speaking, as if searching for my silent happiness. Which there was a lot of, it was just buried underneath the pile of nerves that I had been living with the entire afternoon.

After seeing whatever he saw on my face, my father nodded, shook Cody’s hand, and that was that.

Things with my mother were not as simple. She drilled him about his parents—the only part of the interaction where he seemed even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Everyone knew that he was raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse at the hospital in the next town over. I’d seen her in the grocery store a couple of times, and she had a kind smile, sad eyes and always looked tired. She was pretty, though, kind of ageless. I hadn’t heard of her having a boyfriend since she’d moved here with Cody. And if there was one, my mother would’ve pounced on gossip like that. In our small town, , a woman moving with her son without a father was gossip worthy. At least to my mom it was.

She already knew everything there was to know about his mother, and there was nothing to know about his father. As far I as I knew, Cody never talked about him, and he wasn’t in the picture.

Cody handled it well, though, with manners that my mother—in my opinion—didn’t deserve.

“It’s just me and my mom, ma’am. She works hard and is the only parent I need.” He said this with such firmness that it moved even my mother off the subject, which earned a look of approval from my father who had been trying to master that art their entire marriage.

Of course, it didn’t mean he was completely off the hook. Mom continued to drill him about his grades—good but nothing special—about his college prospects—none as of yet—his part time job working at the Sons of Templar MC garage—yeah, my mom got a real kick out of that—and her demand that he get me home by curfew.

Pretty mild for my mom.

Cody made all the promises, and he kept them all.

He took me for a picnic on the beach for our first date. Yeah, he organized a picnic on the beach. The eighteen-year-old, mini badass organized something so romantic I cried inside.

He kissed me at sunset.

It wasn’t my first kiss, but it felt like it was. Everything with Cody felt like a first.

I think I fell in love with him during that kiss. Or maybe it was when he complimented my boots in the hallway. Or when he handled my mother so well. Or when he brushed my hair from my face and whispered to me how beautiful I was.

Yeah, it was probably all of those.

And he was acting like he felt the same way. Like this was something natural, like he’d been feeling this way for as long as I had, but Willow warned me not to be fooled.

“If there’s one thing men are good at, it’s pretending they feel the same way about you until they get into your pants. That shit should be an Olympic sport for them.”

She was too young to be such a cynic about men and love in general, but then again, she had divorced parents and a rotating door of stepfathers, the latest of whom had tried to sneak into her room while she was sleeping. Willow had woken up and, of course, punched him in the face. Her mother had immediately kicked him out. She might’ve had bad taste in men, but she loved her daughter.

I, on the other hand, had two parents who at least pretended to love each other and  a stable home life where I didn’t have to wake up with my right fist ready in case some creep is trying to touch me in my sleep.

I read romance novels and had a quiet, caring father, a brash, casserole making mother, and no real traumas in my life. So I found it hard to believe that Cody was just putting this on in order to get into my pants. If he wanted to get into a girl’s pants, there would be a line around the block of girls volunteering for that.

Nonetheless, I heeded Willow’s words. Or tried to. It was hard to be a cynic when the guy I’d crushed on my entire high school life was carrying my books for me, holding my hand and making out with me in my bedroom with the music turned all the way up.

He’d had plenty of dinners at my place, having won my mother over, plus she knew that his own mother was working nights and was absolutely aghast at the idea of a teenage boy having to fend for himself.

She’d never admit it, of course, but she was really starting to like my first boyfriend.

I’d officially met his mom as his girlfriend. She was soft spoken with a slight rasp to her voice, had Cody’s eyes and loved her son. They didn’t have a lot of money. Not something I had ever had to think about, but it was apparent in their small, one story, two-bedroom home on the outskirts of town. She’d put a lot of effort and love into it, though. Flowers in the front yard, a greenhouse full of vegetables and herbs in the backyard, bright, vintage sofas with cozy looking throws. It was definitely a feminine home.

With the exception of Cody’s room, of course. A room I’d spent a lot of time in. Since his mother worked nights, that meant we had an entire house to ourselves. There were many nights I lied and said I was studying at Willow’s, because no matter how much she liked Cody, no way was my mom going to approve of me being there without an adult present.

But I was.

We’d been boyfriend and girlfriend for four months.

It felt like forever and a brief moment at the same time.

Up until now, there had been heavy make out sessions. Over and under the bra action. His hand resting comfortably and possessively on my butt at parties we attended as a couple. He never left my side at those, and if he did, his eyes were always on me.

But tonight was different.

Not because he was pressuring me. He was so respectful it was almost getting annoying.

I was under no illusion that he was a virgin. He must have wanted more, second base at least. In fact, the hardness I’d felt against my leg during a few of our heavy make out sessions was evidence of that. And the tight way he held himself when he decided he had to stop… Yes, he wanted more, but he didn’t pressure me.

The problem was, I wanted more. I was terrified and worried I’d do it wrong, wouldn’t know how to be sexy and embarrass myself.

But it was getting out of control. That need. For him. For more than just making out and heavy petting.

Willow had already informed me that the guy usually lasted a minute. Tops. But I didn’t care about that. However it would be, I wanted it with Cody. Wanted everything.

“Don’t stop,” I whispered when things had started to get hotter than normal. My shirt was on the floor, and I was wearing a plain, pink cotton bra. Not sexy. Cody was also shirtless. He had a lean, muscled body that was most definitely sexy.

Cody had tried to pull that muscled, sexy torso away from me when the telltale hardness between his legs brushed against the thin fabric of my shorts. The mere friction of it caused me to gasp in pleasure. Cody, always attuned to my body and sounds, obviously mistook this for pain or fear, so he tried to stop.

I was quicker, for once. Need was hot in my blood, making me grip the back of his neck with both of my hands so he couldn’t move, his body still pressed against mine.

“Lizzie,” he gritted out.

“I want this,” I begged. “I want you. Please.”

His eyes searched mine then lowered down to my bra that suddenly felt like the sexiest thing in the world. He let out a harsh hiss of air.

Then the pressure against my hands released as he moved to press his lips against mine.

I kissed him back hungrily, desperately.

He stopped it as if he was trying to torture me. “I’m gonna give you something,” he murmured against my lips. “I’m gonna make today all about you. Because you may think you’re ready now, but I don’t want you to have any regrets. I don’t want it to be in my bedroom on a night my mom is gone. I want it to be… more special for you.” He brushed the back of his hand against my cheek. “But I’m going to be your first, Lizzie. I want to be your last, but I’m not stupid enough to think you’ll be with me forever, no matter how much I want that.” His hand moved quickly, unlatching my bra and pulling it free. No matter how naïve some might say it was to think it, I knew he was my forever.

“But I’m gonna make the most of every moment I have with you,” he continued, lips firm and hard against mine once more.

Then he moved.


First to my exposed breasts.

Then to my bellybutton.

His tongue teased me with what was going to happen, moving across my stomach.

Then much lower.

Suffice it to say, the need I was feeling was sated. Twice.

Chapter Two

Five Months Later

“Well,” I said, closing the door to Cody’s room. “You’re officially no longer shackled to the institution known as high school.”

There was a low thump coming from the living room, we’d left the music on. Everyone had left the graduation party that Cody’s mom, Olive, had given permission for him to throw as long as they stuck to beer and everyone was out by midnight.

My mother would never leave me alone in a house to have a party; she’d never trust a bunch of teenagers to abide by such rules. But Cody adored and respected Olive, so it was five after midnight and we were the only ones here.

My mother was out of town, and I’d told my father I was sleeping over at Willow’s. He was far too smart and observant to believe me, but he also trusted me.

So he’d told me to, “be careful” and kissed me on the head.

This wasn’t the first night I’d be sleeping curled up with my boyfriend. We didn’t get many of these since there were only so many sleepovers my mother would believe I was having, and Olive rotated night shifts. Although she never said anything when I was sitting at her breakfast table when she came home from work. She’d just smile, kiss me on the cheek and sit with me and Cody while we ate.

She was the mother I wished I had. I knew it was a nasty and a cruel thing for me to think considering my mother didn’t beat me or verbally abuse me and bought me whatever clothes I’d decided fit my vision at the time. I was into more rock chick, Bridget Bardot these days, growing my hair longer, wearing winged eyeliner, tight black jeans and band tees. My mother hated it, but she still bought me the clothes.

She was a good mother.

But she didn’t kiss my cheek in the morning. Didn’t sit at the table with me and just talk about life. Her version of talking was gossiping, pressuring me about college, grades, the future. Lecturing my dad about whatever he’d done wrong that week.

Olive asked me what my dreams were. What was my favorite book? Movie. Who inspired me? What countries I wanted to visit.

She’d taken me in as the daughter she’d never had, and it made me feel warm and accepted.

My mother didn’t have that in her.

Which was fine, because I had Olive. I had her for as long as I had Cody in my life, and I planned on having him in my life forever. I knew it was a stupid, naïve thought to have about my very first boyfriend—my very first everything—especially when he had just graduated high school and I had another year.

But it didn’t matter.

We were different.

Cody was different.

He loved me.

Beyond that, he didn’t have big dreams of leaving Amber, going to fancy colleges. He’d told me what he wanted to the night I gave him my virginity.

* * *

Prom night…

“It’s cliché, but I wanted to give you that.”

We had rented a hotel room the next town over. Mom thought we were all staying together for a girl’s sleepover, and each of us had carefully coordinated this ‘sleepover’ since out of the three of us involved, we all had boyfriends who booked hotel rooms.

I was afraid.

Tipsy, because I’d wanted to loosen up and not act like some virgin. I was only a virgin in the most technical of terms. Cody and I had done everything but. And sure, I might’ve been nervous or awkward at first, but my need, my desire had always clouded such feelings. Everything thus far had been awesome. Had made me feel different. Like a woman. More loved. Worshipped. Confident.

So sex was going to be good. After the first painful part.

And it was painful. Despite the nice hotel room that Cody had put overtime in to pay for. The candles, the lingerie that I’d bought on a shopping trip with Willow and had hidden in the back of my closet.

He’d been gentle, reverent and loving, but it didn’t make a difference. It hurt like a bitch. Unlike every heroine in the romance books I read, I didn’t enjoy it. I gritted my teeth through it and counted it as a victory that I didn’t cry.

Cody felt bad.

Terrible. Tortured even. It was written all over his face, hatred for himself because he’d caused me pain. He’d taken me to the shower and cleaned me meticulously, with such tenderness that I fell even more in love with him in that moment.

He’d then taken me to bed, taking his time to cover every inch of my body with his mouth, then moved to the important and tender parts, coaxing me back to the edge.

Suffice it to say, the second time was much better.

And the third.

We spent every moment we could naked after that. Willow joked about Cody turning me into a nympho, but it was really just that we were obsessed with each other. To an unhealthy extent, some would say. Some being my mother.

Despite her reservations about the time I spent with him, mom was still enamored by Cody. In fact, she thought it was my fault for becoming a lovestruck girl, letting my grades and therefore losing college prospects because of a guy of all things.

She wasn’t wrong. I was lovestruck by Cody. I was obsessed with him. With what our lives would be.

Which was what we talked about that night, the first night. And again after the second time, when I felt sated, satisfied and sore. Above all, happy.

I’d let him know that sure, I’d like to go to college maybe major in English lit with a business minor just so my mom would be happy. Find a job doing something I loved after graduating. Something to do with books maybe. That wasn’t really the goal, though. My real goal, the one I didn’t say out loud, was to marry Cody, have lots of babies and live an extraordinary but peaceful life.

Cody had listened intently, as he did with anything I had to say. He’d even watched Factory Girl with me despite the fact it was a chick flick and that I’d already seen it about five times. He sat at vintage stores with me while I found faded Levi’s to cut into jean shorts. That he probably didn’t mind so much since he loved those shorts and enjoyed watching me change.

“I want to patch into the Sons of Templar MC,” he said quietly, arms tight around me.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, considering he’d been working at the garage since he was sixteen and talked about each of the members with reverence.

I didn’t have any experience with the MC. Or I had about the same experience as the average citizen of Amber. They were a large presence, casting a shadow over the town, but they were also respected. Almost a landmark. They did charity rides, they volunteered around town. But they were also criminals, and everyone knew that.

I’d always thought they were kind of interesting, exciting even. The lifestyle fascinated me. Not enough to be brave the parties at the clubhouse  Willow had begged me to sneak into with her that she got kicked out of—they were well known for not letting in underage girls.

“You’ve been quiet for a long time,” Cody said, unease in his voice. When I looked to him, his face looked different than it did at school, parties, even with his mom. He’d let his walls down. He was vulnerable with me and only me. It was a kind of treasure I’d never imagined getting.

“I was just thinking,” I shrugged.

“You wouldn’t stay with me if I patched in?” he asked, a slight tremor to his voice.

The insecurity in his voice had me moving. Pushed him flat on the bed and moved to straddle him,  his cock pressed against my beautifully tender parts.

I moved so my hands clasped his neck, his gaze held in mine. “I will be with you no matter what, Cody. Nothing will change the way I feel about you.” I laid my lips gently on his. “And the fact that this news will mean you’re going to stay in Amber makes me even happier.”

He frowned. “But you’re going to go to college. You have to go to college.”

I rolled my eyes. “You sound like my mother.”

He didn’t smile. In fact, he moved us again, so I was now on my back and his naked body was pressed against mine. “I’m serious, Lizzie,” he continued. “You’re smart. All you know is this town, you deserve to see something more. You need to go to college. I’m not going to let you jeopardize your future for me.”

I didn’t like his tone. The way his eyes looked when he said this scared me. “You’re my future, Cody. Losing you is the only thing that could jeopardize my future. I’ve never wanted to leave Amber. You’re just giving me another reason to stay.”

The look stayed on his face, but he didn’t say anything.

“What does your mom say about your plan to patch in?” I asked, deciding to change the subject because it scared me in ways I didn’t want to admit.

As progressive and laid back as Olive was, I couldn’t see her wanting her only son to patch in to the town’s resident motorcycle gang. Especially if it put him in any kind of danger. Now and then there were funerals for members and they’d all died violently. The mere thought of something happening to Cody made my stomach clench and my heart climb up to my throat.

He winced ever so slightly. “Yeah, I told her,” he replied. “She took it about as well as I thought she would. At first, she thought I’d change my mind, that it was a phase. Then she got pissed. Now she’s just accepted it. I’ve let her down. But I just can’t… see anything else for me. I’m not worth anything else.”

My blood turned cold. He really meant what he’d said. I’d caught things like this every now and then, a self-deprecating remark about himself peppered into our conversations. It had been enough to bother me, but he glossed over them so quickly that I’d never had a chance to address them.

“Cody,” I whispered. “You’re worth everything. You are the kindest person I know. You are the most special person I know. What makes you even think such things?”

He paled ever so slightly, his eyes darkening.

I got the feeling that he was going to tell me something. Something that explained those comments, that undercurrent of darkness that I sensed in him from time to time.

But then it went away. He put on a mask, and the Cody I recognized returned. “I don’t know, guess it’s shit from not havin’ my Old Man in my life. But I don’t wanna talk about that.” He pressed his lips against my neck. “Actually, I don’t want to talk at all. I want to make love to my Old Lady.”

Something moved inside me. Grew. Something good. “Old Lady?” I repeated.

“Yes,” he growled, his lips moving down my neck. “If I’m going to patch in to the Sons of Templar, then you’re gonna be my Old Lady. You okay with that

I didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, I’m more than okay with that,” I murmured.

So our future was laid out in front of us. Just like a romance novel.

Too bad romance novels were fiction.

* * *

“So what happens now?” I asked after closing the door to Cody’s room on graduation night, starting to unbutton my shirt. The act of undressing in front of Cody was still novel to me. It was so intimate, so grown up, so precious. Mostly, we’d been ripping each other’s clothes off with desperate need. Though I liked that a lot, this was special too. I couldn’t wait until I could undress for him every night. He was going to save up to get a rental, move in before I graduated then I’d move in with him. My mother would have a cow, but I’d legally be an adult so she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Plus, I’d be going to a college forty minutes’ drive away, commuting daily, so she couldn’t complain.

I was anxious to get my senior year started. An entire year of school ahead of me seemed like torture, especially knowing that Cody would be living on his own and prospecting with the Sons of Templar MC, likely being exposed to all kinds of very attractive, very experienced women.

Not that I didn’t trust Cody, but my obsession made my thoughts ugly.

“Do you like drive your motorcycle into their compound and then they test you for worthiness or macho-ness? Or do you have to like rob a bank or something to show you’re willing to do anything for the MC?” I continued. “As much as I support you doing this, I really don’t think you should rob a bank. I know that movies make it seem like bank robberies have a high success rate, but they really don’t. It’s not a feasible way to steal money.”

Cody didn’t laugh or even crack a smile, which really didn’t reassure me about the whole bank robbery thing. In addition to the silence, there was the look. That look. The cold, tortured one from our first night together.

“Cody?” I asked, getting worried.

“I was your first,” Cody said, his voice dead.

I was scared. No, terrified. Because I didn’t recognize his voice. I didn’t recognize the way he looked at me. I suddenly felt too exposed with my shirt half unbuttoned. Like I needed a barrier because I had the feeling something was going to cut up my bare skin.

“I was your first,” he repeated.

The way he said those words to me gave me pause. There was something in his eyes. Something detached from us.

So I didn’t speak, just nodded.

“You weren’t mine.”

I flinched at his tone, though, the truth stung a little too. “I’m aware that you weren’t living in a convent prior to us getting together,” I teased, trying to joke but not succeeding.

“No, I didn’t have my first sexual experience with some fuckin’ cheerleader,” he scowled. There was violence in voice. In every cell of his body. My relaxed and charming boyfriend was nowhere to be seen. This was the dark side of him that I’d  sometimes seen snippets of. Flashes. Things that had told me I hadn’t yet seen all of him. Didn’t know all of him.

“Without going into detail that neither of us need, my first sexual experience was not consensual, happened when I was too fuckin’ young to understand what was going on, and the fact that my uncle was the one doing the… shit, I wasn’t brave enough to stand up to him. To say no.” He ran his hand through his hair, looking anywhere but me.

My heart thumped between my ears, a dull roar. The beer I drank earlier tonight curdled in my stomach, and it took effort to keep from throwing up. Hearing the pain and shame in Cody’s voice was sickening.

“He did it more than once,” he continued. “Told me it was a secret, that I’d get in trouble if I told anyone.” He laughed, but it was a bitter, ugly sound. “Stupid kid that I was, I believed him.”

I stepped forward, intending on touching him, comforting him, doing anything to take the suffering, pain and self-hatred from his body. He was coated with it.

Cody stepped back from my touch. Recoiled. His rejection hit me in the chest, but I got it.

“You weren’t stupid,” I said. “You were a child. And he was a monster.” Tears blurred my vision, and I tried to force them from falling. I couldn’t be weak in the face of this. Couldn’t show him an emotion he might construe as pity.

“Ah, no, he was just a man,” he said. “One that has to die.”

My blood went cold. “What?”

“He ruined me, Lizzie,” Cody hissed, finally looking at me. “He ruined what I might’ve had with you. Stole it from me. Ripped me up inside so self-hatred is all I know. When I told my dad, you know what he did? He smacked me around and called me a faggot.” Another one of those cold laughs spilled from him. “My mom would’ve believed me. But it also would’ve broken her heart, I knew that even then. Was protecting her even then. My dad beat me so bad that it made her leave him. When she saw what he did to me, she ran. With me. As far away as she could get.” He looked away. “Here,” he murmured. “She wanted Amber to be a fresh start. Clean slate. Something good. I didn’t want to tarnish our good thing with the rancid truth, so I buried it. With the promise to myself that when I was older, stronger, I’d go back there. I’d find him, and I’d kill him.”

A tear rolled down my cheek. I couldn’t stop it. “Cody…” I stepped forward, but the way his body tensed made me pause. It wasn’t even tensing, it was a recoil. An emotional slap to the face and knife to the soul.

“You need to leave,” he said in that cold, disembodied voice.

“Leave?” I repeated, my voice shaking. “No. I’m not going anywhere.” Something told me if I left right then, I’d never see Cody again. It would be over in a scary, permanent way. “I can’t lose you.”

“You never really had me, Lizzie,” he countered. “Not all of me. I can’t give you that.  fuck, you’re in fucking high school. This is not the kind of shit we should be dealing with. That you should be dealing with. We need to grow up. Both of us.” He stared at me. Like I was a stranger. “You need to leave.”

I knew him, so in that moment I knew nothing was going to change his mind. And he was right. We were too young for this intensity. He’d just told me something that he’d been hiding, his greatest shame. The secret had obviously been cutting him up from the inside out. And I didn’t know how to handle something like this. Even if I did, Cody was telling me he didn’t want my help. Even though I wanted to be there for him, maybe Cody could tackle his demons alone. Maybe he needed to focus on himself, because when we were together, all his thoughts, effort and love went to me. And how was he meant to repair what had been broken without time for himself?

But the selfish part of me didn’t care. I didn’t care about all of that. About all the possible repercussions. I just wanted my boyfriend. I wanted to undress and go to bed with him. Sleep with his arms around me. I wanted to find a way to fix his pain, show him that it didn’t make me love him any less. That it didn’t make him any less. But he wouldn’t believe me. It wouldn’t sink in. I didn’t have any experience with this kind of horror, and I had no idea how to help him. Worse, I was terrified I’d hurt him.

“I’m going to leave,” I whispered, tears streaming down my face, “even though I know this decision is going to be painful for the two of us. I hate that you’re forcing me to go. I don’t want to. I don’t want to be without you. I don’t want you to think horrible things about yourself that aren’t true. But I can’t control that. Just please, carry this with you.” I undid the heart necklace he’d bought me for Christmas. The one that caused him to take a month longer to finish his motorcycle than it should’ve.

I didn’t trust myself to move closer and physically hand it to him, so I laid it gently on his nightstand.

“Carry me with you,” I pleaded, looking at him, another tear rolling down my cheek. “Just remember, there’s nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you. No matter what you think. However long it takes, I’ll be waiting for you. No matter what.”

I turned and walked out.

Part of me thought he’d chase after me, kiss me and promise everything was going to be okay.

But he didn’t.

Because everything wasn’t going to be okay.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way this story goes.