Reaper's Property(8)

By: Joanna Wylde

He jumped back, and I wondered if he was going to kill me. Instead he started laughing so hard I thought he might pull a muscle. I scowled, and he held up his arms to each side in pointed surrender.

“I get it, hands off,” he said, shaking his head, bemused. “Play it the way you like. And you’re right, we’ve got business. Go drive for an hour, that should be enough time.”

I slid off the table and darted around him. He trailed me as I went to my car. I opened the door and almost got in, then the same stupid streak of curiosity that’d caused me trouble all my life drowned out my sense of self-preservation. I stopped in the doorway, looking at him across the roof.

“Horse isn’t your real name, is it?”

He smiled at me, his teeth white in the darkness, like a wolf’s.

“Road name,” he replied, leaning against the roof of my car. “That’s the way things work in my world. Citizens have names. We have road names.”

“What does that mean?”

“People give them to you when you start riding,” he said casually. “They can mean all kinds of things. Picnic got his name because he went all out planning some pansy-assed picnic for a bitch who had him twisted up in knots. She ate his food and drank his booze, then called her fuckwad boyfriend to come and pick her up while he took a leak.”

I grimaced at his crudity, trying to understand.

“That seems…unpleasant. Why would he want to remember that?”

“Because when the fuckwad showed up, Picnic shoved his head through a picnic table.”

I caught my breath. That didn’t sound good. I wanted to ask if the guy had been all right but decided I probably didn’t want to know the answer.

“And Max?”

“When he gets drunk, sometimes his eyes go all wide and he looks fuckin’ crazy, like Mad Max.”

“I see,” I replied, thinking about the man. I guess he did look sort of like Mad Max… I decided I didn’t want to see him drunk.

Silence hung heavy between us.

“So aren’t you gonna ask?”

I studied him, narrowing my eyes. I had a bad feeling about this. But the words came out of my mouth, completely beyond my control.

“So why are you called Horse?”

“’Cause I’m hung like one,” he replied, smirking.

I dropped down into my car and slammed the door shut. I heard him laughing through the open window as I peeled out of the driveway.

Chapter Two

Sept. 17—Present Day

“I’m so sorry, sis,” Jeff said, the words muffled from his bloody, swollen lips. Was he missing a tooth? I looked around the room, unable to believe that these men—two of whom I’d cooked for, one of whom I’d done a lot more than cooking for—were actually threatening to kill my brother. Could this really be happening?

Picnic looked right at me and winked.

“Little brother’s been a bad boy,” he said. “He’s been stealing from us. You know anything about that?”

I shook my head quickly. A bag fell off my arm, apples bouncing out and rolling across the floor. One of them hit Horse’s foot. He didn’t glance down, just maintained that cool, thoughtful expression I’d seen on his face so many times. It frustrated me—I wanted to scream at him to show some fucking emotions. I knew he had them. Unless that had been a lie too.

Oh. My. God.

My brother knelt in the middle of our crappy living room, bleeding and awaiting execution, and all I could think about was me and Horse. What the hell was wrong with me?

“I don’t understand,” I said quickly, looking at Jeff’s puffy, bruising face, silently pleading with him to burst out laughing at the big joke they were playing on me.

Jeff didn’t start laughing. In fact, his breath rattled through the room like a movie sound effect. How badly was he hurt?

“He’s supposed to be working for us,” Picnic said. “He’s pretty good with that little laptop of his. But instead of working he’s been playing at the casino with our fucking money. Now he has the balls to tell me that he’s lost the money and can’t pay us back.”

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