Skulls leaned slightly to the left, his chopper gliding across the lane marker. One of the surrounding three machines pulled up alongside. Little Elvis inclined his head, giving Skulls a big grin.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day—continental drift!” The southern drawl made the comment even better, drawing a chuckle from him. Skulls wasn’t at all bothered about the reference to his massive size. He’d been referred to as a continent more than once in his life.
The silver skulls decorating his beard bobbed about in the wind. “Raw and I want to thank you and the boys for the extra help. Now that Harm and Ellie are squared away, things will settle down.” Raw’s cousin, Little Elvis, had his own business to attend to down south. Skulls rode with them to the state line. Raw always liked one of the members to see off their company and, this time, it had fallen to him.
“Bet you haven’t had that much fun with explosives since you did your time.” Little Elvis took off, not bothering to wait for an answer. He’d been referring to the bomb Axel had rigged around Ellie. True enough, he’d been lucky to catch the secondary Axel had put onto the mechanism. He never had told Harm how close Ellie had got to being blown up. It had been pretty sweet pitching it across the road to have it explode on Axel’s dead body down in the ravine. Skulls grinned. Nothing cheered him up like seeing an asshole like Axel get his due and nothing made him feel more content than knowing he’d helped in the process.
Skulls watched the three ride away down the stretch of asphalt. The late September sun beat down on his leather jacket, warming his back. Not much traffic today. He listened, appreciating the silence of the country. His life had taken some strange turns on the highway. He was a Ghost and he lived to ride free. A slow smile came over him. Little Elvis was right about him doing his time. He’d served in the military, something more than a few couldn’t wrap their heads around. His skill set was unique and he had no reservations about what he did as Raw’s “second” for the Hungry Ghosts. Life brought challenges and he always rode right into them and usually, over them. Death was something everyone faced. He wasn’t afraid. He would go whenever it was his time.
He rode back along the highway until he reached the small lane leading to the Boland graveyard. The chopper took the rough path with ease. Between his weight and the brute of a machine he rode, he could navigate difficult terrain with ease. It was already Friday and he hadn’t been by her grave for a spell. Skulls pulled into the gravel lot and parked, leaving his skullcap resting on the seat. He paused, reaching inside his leather jacket to retrieve the single rose he’d bought at the small roadside grocery.
Her grave was up along the treeline. It had been important to him that Maggie’s grave be in a shaded and secluded spot. The last bit of her life had been horrible, a storm of deceit and betrayal. Skulls crouched down by the grave. Gently, he placed his hand on her headstone.
“I’m so sorry, Maggie. You didn’t deserve any of it.” If she hadn’t had peace for that last part of her life, she’d have it now in death. Carefully, he laid the rose down. The rosebush had been tended to and there was a new candle sitting against the headstone—evidence that Miek had visited in the not too distant past. Skulls swallowed hard, keeping the emotion down. Getting all turned up for the day wouldn’t bring her back. Maggie had got caught up in the crossfire. She’d simply been the wrong person at the worst time. Blame didn’t take the pain away, it only intensified it.
Tyler and Maggie had only lived together a couple of months. She’d ended it, but he’d had other ideas. The selfish prick had taken away any chance of Maggie and him having happiness. He clenched and unclenched his fists, the rage still quick to come up. Each breath slow and ragged as he battled to keep control. After a couple of minutes, he was able to continue. Skulls dug around in his pocket for the lighter. The wind was almost nonexistent. Reaching over, he lit the candle. The flame danced about for a few seconds and he let his mind drift.
Maggie. His life hadn’t cut a path easily shared with another. He’d spent years in the military serving his country—proudly and without regrets. When Maggie had come into his life, things became complicated and very quickly. He’d fallen hard. She was newly separated from her live-in partner and wanting to start her life over. She’d bought a small home closer in town. That had been three years ago. Their passion had been amazing. When Tyler had found out, he’d become incensed and then obsessed, stalking her. Skulls had paid the man a visit to explain how this wasn’t going to continue. The memory was still vivid in his mind. He’d grabbed Tyler by the collar and shoved him up against the side of the house, watching the sweat pour off his pasty skin. There’d been no political correctness that day. Just the facts. Facts about how painful and slow someone’s leaving could be. Slowly, he’d increased the pressure on Tyler’s neck until his eyes had bulged. When he’d let him go, Tyler sat, slumped on the ground, gasping.
“Hope you like storms.”
Tyler had choked out the words.
“You’d better get out of here before I do something you’ll regret.”
What crawled along his spine that day had never left—but was the feeling a warning or had he allowed this piece of human garbage to get under his skin?
Tyler had packed up and left right after their talk. What Skulls didn’t understand was why he’d gone without more of a fight. It didn’t sit right. Those weren’t the actions of a jilted ex-lover.
Nothing happened after that for over three months. Just peace and quiet for Maggie and him. Life had its own ideas and Skulls was called away to participate in a mercenary operation. He’d been called forth over the years when something very precise and particular needed doing. The last thing he saw was Maggie’s lovely face, her beautiful smile, and those dimples.
“Don’t worry. Just go! You know I’ll be fine. Everything is okay now. He hasn’t contacted me. I’ll miss you.”
That last kiss. He closed his eyes, feeling the softness of her lips on his.
Tyler had moved out of state and there hadn’t been even a hint of him. The Hungry Ghosts had ears and eyes all over the state, so Skulls had no qualms when Raw had told him Tyler was gone. Yet despite that, something had nagged at his gut.
Raw had gone by to check on her himself. He’d gone so far as to have some of the Ghosts go by and watch around the neighborhood for the first couple of weeks. It had been quiet and nothing at all had come up as a red flag. Tyler had planned well. He’d held back, creating a false sense of security. No one knew he’d come back into town. Rarely did anyone ever get under Raw’s radar. How Tyler had managed it, still ate at him.
They’d found her body inside the house. The call from Raw had left him burning. At that moment a fury ignited inside of him. A fury forged from his heart shattering when he realized he would never see her again, never run his finger over the softness of her cheek. His unit brothers told him to go home, they’d finish the op. He refused. After making arrangements with Miek to bury Maggie, he’d stayed and completed his mission. What had to be done would get done—all in good time. Everyone in the unit wanted to help out, but Skulls wouldn’t allow it. This was a job he’d do solo. Solo and clean and without dragging anyone else into what could turn into a mess. Losing Maggie had brought everything in his life to a standstill. The choice had been easy—this would be his last assignment. He didn’t hesitate to take the exit ramp out and into a new life. For him, the ops were over. It was time to go in a different direction. Raw and the Ghosts welcomed him with open arms. Skulls considered himself twice blessed—to have had brothers in his unit and in the Hungry Ghosts. Family wasn’t necessarily who you were related to by blood.
When Skulls returned, the hunt had begun. Tyler had skipped state, but that didn’t mean much. Skulls had packed his saddlebag and rode off. He hunted Tyler, following a trail full of careless mistakes to finally catch up with him. The man behaved strangely, as though he felt he couldn’t be touched. Tyler’s last words echoed in his mind. “You don’t know it, but you’re just about to enter hell.”
When he’d returned to Little Holland, a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Skulls stared up at the sun filtering through the clouds drifting along. He remembered when he’d walked into the kitchen at the Boland’s farm. Miek and Alex knew. Miek had offered lunch and Alex had offered whiskey.
“Good to see you home, son,”
Alex had said. The matter would never have to be closed because it would never be opened.
“They would have loved you, Maggie. I think in the short time they knew you, everyone did. I still do,” he whispered. Years had passed and still nothing sat right about Tyler. Why had he killed Maggie? Tyler had known who and what Skulls was. What MC he belonged to. He would have known there could only be one end to a road like that. Skulls had gone hunting only to find the guy didn’t have anyone connected to him. One of the few things he’d said was that he’d lived in the shadows of other men for too long. Skulls had assumed that he’d been referring to losing Maggie to him. Raw’s opinion was that the guy had been one flawed fuck. He was someone that couldn’t lose and Maggie had been the toy he’d thought he’d lost. Raw usually nailed most things down, but this time, Skulls couldn’t let it settle or rest. There was more to it, he was certain. Just what that more was, he didn’t know.
He stood at the end of her grave. Suddenly the candle’s flame flickered and went out. A cold chill went through his body.
“Let my spirit be free.” Maggie’s voice came over his left shoulder, sending tingles over him. Skulls looked around, expecting to see her floating form, but she wasn’t there.
Miek had warned him. She’d been trying to get him to let go and not have Maggie wander.
“Even love can be its own prison. We hold people to us with it and sometimes, we can’t let them go.”
Miek had spoken kindly, but she’d made her point.
It hit him hard, his breaths ragged as the pain cut through his being. He’d been holding onto her as though she were still alive. Her memory a life raft in the raging sea of despair where he’d found himself going under the waves more than once.
The candle going out had been to get his attention. As if her voice begging for release wouldn’t have.
“Maggie.” Skulls closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. “Be at peace, my love. Go now. Go where you need to be. I’ll be along at some point. When that day comes, I’ll find you.”
He walked away from her grave. She’d spoken and he had to find some way to let go.
Harm and Ellie would be back today. Raw’s text to get his ass back into The Iron Horse had come just as he’d left the cemetery. Skulls rode the back country roads, taking in the changing colors of the leaves and the smells of autumn and of the late harvest. He felt a peace inside his heart.
“I miss you, Maggie,” he whispered, turning onto the highway.