DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ SIN & SUFFER
LOVE & LOST (bonus scene)
“I don’t want to do this.”
Molly’s mouth hung open. “You don’t want to do what? Marry him?” She grabbed my freshly powdered cheeks, careful not to smudge my perfect make-up, artfully plaited red hair, and lacy veil cascading down my back. “You don’t want to do what, Cleo?” She shook me. “How can you say that? You’ve been soul mates since you were kids. You can’t be serious.”
Melanie pulled my overly passionate friend away, glaring at me. “Before you kill her, Mol, let’s hear the reasons why.” She crossed her arms, crinkling the black and caramel bridesmaid gown. “Go on…we’re waiting.”
I groaned, brushing my hands on the ivory silk of my gown, tracing the fiery sash around my waist. “I don’t know what I mean. Just pre-wedding jitters, that’s all.”
Melanie cocked her eyebrow. “I think there’s more to it than that.”
But I couldn’t admit it because what sort of wife, supporter, and friend would that make me?
Everything had been planned for months. Everyone from Pure Corruption had helped, from transporting copious amounts of alcohol and marquee equipment to helping set up the seats and banquet tables. It’d been a first for them and for the councillors of Florida State, rubbing shoulders with business units and motorcycle cuts, coming together to celebrate their leader and biker brother Arthur “Kill” Killian.
However, we’d had no say in the date. The senate wanted a Valentine’s Day wedding for more “romance.” Everything was staged and no longer felt like us.
Like me and him.
Like Libra and Sagittarius.
Art and I had returned from our trip away and things had been crazy ever since. He’d been swamped with political agendas and adopted entirely by the public. Everything we did was scrutinized and judged by the same people Art was trying to help.
And that was why I didn’t want to do this.
Not because it was my wedding day or because of the giant pear-cut diamond on my engagement finger or the red silk leading the way to an alter and the man I loved beyond life itself, but because of the suits waiting with judgey eyes, the TV cameras and journalists transcribing every private moment, and the fact that Arthur was no longer mine but theirs.
The public. The senate.
Twirling my engagement ring, I looked up. “Forget about it. Let’s get this show on the road.”
A sudden memory of an empty highway, growl of a motorbike engine, and wind gusting past my face made my heart rabbit.
I needed to get away. To ride away. But even though today was our wedding day, Arthur was bound to another rally, another conference, another speech, another…another…another...
We couldn’t even plan a honeymoon because our life was no longer ours to control.
Standing, I faced the mirror for the first time. The girl staring back at me was a total stranger. The scars I’d earned in my childhood glittered with ghost-flames of the fire that marked me. My tattoo painted with colorful inks and patterns. The two together would’ve clashed with my wedding finery…but not today. Today it marked me as a senator’s bride, but no one could deny my origins. I was a biker brat. A diesel child. Raised in smoke and gasoline, daughter to the open road and freedom.
A loud bang wrenched my head up.
Molly turned, holding the diamond necklace that was my last decoration. “What the hell—”
“Buttercup? Where the f*** are you?”
My heart leapt. “Art? What are you doing here? You know you’re not supposed to see the—”
His huge form appeared in the doorway. The tux he’d been ordered to wear by his political adviser hung haphazardly open, revealing an oil-greased shirt and crushed peony in his breast pocket.
“Kill, leave.” Melanie tried to push him back the way he came. “You’re supposed to be at the marquee.”
Art completely ignored her as if she didn’t exist. Barreling past, he grabbed me in his arms, kissed me, then snatched my wrist and dragged me from the hotel room where we’d been getting ready. “Change of plans, Buttercup.”
I tottered after him in my red high heels and billowing dress. “What’s happened?” Fear of gang retaliation or potential assassination crushed my chest. “Where are you taking me?”
The hotel wasn’t large—a lovely quaint place that my girlfriends and I had hired where no paparazzi or unwanted visitors could get to us. Now, it was left behind as Art hurled me from the foyer and onto the back of his Triumph.
I gawked. “Um, Art? I’m wearing a wedding dress.”
“So? I can’t be on the back of your bike in a white dress. If you’re worried I won’t turn up to the ceremony, you’re completely ridiculous.”
“I’m not afraid you won’t turn up.”
I tilted my head. “Then why are you doing this?”
“Because of us.” He breathed hard, his long dark hair coming loose from his ponytail. “A wedding is for the bride and groom, right?”
I nodded slowly. “Right…”
“And it should be the most special day of their lives, right?”
He bared his teeth. “In that case, why does it feel more like a f***ing circus and PR stunt rather than the best day of my life where your soul finally becomes mine?”
I had no reply.
He clamped large hands on my lacy shoulders. “I’ll tell you why I’m here, Buttercup. I’m here to take you away. I’m here to marry you. I’m here to make you mine. But not at the marquee, not in front of strangers and people who don’t give a s*** about us.”
I gasped. “But there are people who do care about us. Wallstreet and Grasshopper and the girls.”
Art shook his head. “They know us better than that bulls*** staged ceremony. They’ll know why we did this.”
He brushed his nose against mine. “Elope.”
My heart winged into my mouth. “Oh, my God. You want to run?”
Letting me go, he slung his leg over the bike and snarled the engine. “We’re getting married, Buttercup. And it’s just going to be for me and you. No one else.”
I clung to his middle as he tore away from the hotel. My veil whipped behind me and the stress of the past few weeks blasted away with the humid wind. He’d read my mind once again. He’d felt the same about putting on a performance and appeasing others on the most special day of our lives.
This…him…it was perfect.
Clutching his waist, I hugged him with all my might. “I love you, Arthur.”
He chuckled, the rumble of his laugh competing with the rumble of his bike. “I love you more, Buttercup.”
Feeding his machine gasoline, the road opened up, beckoningly bright and blissfully empty. “Now, let’s go get hitched.”
We charged away from society and toward our own perfect union.