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Ride Steady


PAGE 86


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"Got that," Joker stated. "So, you okay?"

I sighed.

Then I said, "I got through the other ways he's been annoying. I'll get through this."

Joker squeezed my hip. "Yeah, Carrie. You will."

I grinned at him as I leaned up and kissed his stubbly jaw.

Travis conked me in the head with his toy.

This made me laugh and give my attention back to my son. Which started me putting that scene with Aaron out of my head and doing what I should have been able to do ten minutes ago.

Welcome my son home. Give him a full tour of the house. And ended the tour with spending time with both my boys-my baby one and my biker one-in my new safe, clean, pretty house.

* * *

"He's gonna try to win you back."

It was that night. Travis was asleep. It was late. It was after the news. After making love with Joker in my bed. The baby monitor I had in storage but hadn't had to use in months since Travis had slept in the same room in the apartment with me was on, its red light lit, and it was on the nightstand on Joker's side, where my biker put it.

"Sweetie," I whispered but said no more.

When it happened with Aaron, I didn't want to think of it.

But I knew it immediately.

Aaron was intensely competitive. I'd noticed it all the way back in high school. I'd always disliked it, and that was the only thing I didn't bury but let show. We'd even fought about it more than once.

I first started noticing it when the team lost a football game and Aaron would react to it in a way that was a little scary.

And not only me but his mother, who pretty much let her husband do whatever he wanted, would get agitated when father or son would challenge each other to anything. It could be a board game or a tennis match. They'd go at it, and each other, with a viciousness that was frightening.

Aaron's father would taunt him anytime Aaron made a mistake, and I hated that.

But not as much as Aaron's behavior. Aaron would rub it in whenever he got one over on his dad. I hated that too. It was relentless, he kept at it to the point it was cruel, and I always thought it said ugly things about him.

Heck, about the both of them.

I had no idea if Aaron's behavior changed a few weeks ago because he knew I had a good attorney or because he saw me walking to my apartment with Joker.

Or if one led into the other.

I just knew that the landscape of my life was changing in a variety of ways, including whatever changes Aaron saw fit to force on it by any means available.

And seeing his ex-wife with another man had an effect I wouldn't have guessed, considering the way he'd treated me. But I probably should have.

And as usual, I didn't like it.

"Gonna do whatever he can to get you, and he's gonna run his current bitch through the wringer to do it," Joker informed me.

I sighed, lifted my cheek from where I was resting it on Joker's chest, and found his eyes through the shadows.

"He and I are done," I declared.

"Heard a lot of what you said when Travis and me weren't in the room, Butterfly, so I know you're into me." I grinned through the dark but Joker kept going. "That's not what bothers me . That jackhole is gonna run his bitch through the wringer, and he's gonna do the same with you and your boy. Man like him doesn't give a fuck about anything... but winning."

"I know," I said quietly.

"You gotta call Angie, tell her all that shit," Joker advised.

"I will, tomorrow," I promised.

"And you and her gotta come up with some way that's gonna make it clear to him that whatever deal you strike about how you take care of your kid is it. Whatever he's got in his head to do to try to best me, he's gotta let it go."

"I'll mention that to Angie."

I had hoped that would end it, but Joker kept at me.

"I know he was yours, you cared about him, you gave him years of your life, your hand, a kid, and I know he fucked you and you're over it. But you gotta know, your ex was a massive dick in high school, and I'm thinkin' maturity didn't wean that outta him."

"He was just-" I started, not in defense of Aaron, more in defense of why I'd put up with the way Aaron was.

"You weren't around," Joker interrupted me. "Lookin' back, the real shit he pulled, the foul shit that was beyond the pale, Carrie, he pulled it only when you weren't there to witness it. If you knew what that motherfucker was up to, you'd have gotten quit of him before you hit your sophomore year, and my guess is, he knew it."

I didn't like the sound of that.

"Like what?" I asked.

"Doesn't matter," Joker didn't answer. "Hope the kids he pulled that crap on got over it. It was so brutal, they probably didn't. But that's not on you. Everyone knew you were cool. Everyone also knew he was not."

"Did he... do anything to you?" I asked hesitantly.

"Tried," Joker answered and I felt my body string tight. "Cornered me, but with bad timing. Had a neighbor, man's still a friend, he drove up when they were settin' up for their beatdown, your ex-motherfucker and five of his crew. Linus got outta his truck and shared some wisdom with them. He was an adult. He's a big man. One look at him you know he can handle himself. And he's got a way with words. The words he used made it clear, they fuck with me ever, they fuck with him, and the way he'd fuck back would be surprising."

I was struggling with contradictory feelings of relief that Joker's old neighbor had good timing and upset that Aaron and his friends had targeted Joker, so I didn't get a reply in before Joker carried on.

"Wouldn't have mattered if Linus hadn't shown. I can take care of myself, and by that time had learned to take a beating."

That didn't make me feel any better.

Joker wasn't quite finished.

"But other kids who didn't have that, Neiland put the screws to 'em. There are bullies, and there are people like Neiland. He broke the mold of a bully. He was a tyrant. He was king of the school, liked his ass on that throne, and actively sought out ways to make sure no one would forget that was his place. He got off on admiration. He also got off on humiliation. Those he considered weak, he wanted them cowed. And he got that however he needed to get it with his crew of buddies who were nothing short of high school enforcers."

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