They made better time than Will had expected. They could have probably made it to Laredo already if he had taken the highways. But sticking to those county roads, they had still managed to cover close to three-hundred-fifty miles, including two stops for fuel. Those had been hard for him because he needed to find a safe place for his Mercy outside of town and leave her alone, unprotected.
Yeah, he knew she had that gun, but shooting a deputy somewhere was the last thing they needed when she had already shot the sheriff. Hell, the next one might just be a good cop doing his job. But luck had been with them. So far.
They had skirted around Pearsall. He could not believe how disappointed Mercy was that they could not stop in the hometown of some singer. Who the heck was George Strait anyway? He definitely had to cue his girl in on some new music. Hadn’t she ever heard of Aretha, Marvin, Smokey, or James Brown? His friends might think his taste in music was old school, but it was the songs he had grown up on. Besides those Sunday hymns, of course.
The weight of his helmet rested between his shoulder blades. She had probably fallen asleep. This ride could not be comfortable for her. Hell, even he was not used to covering over four-hundred miles in a day on the Duchess. If Mercy was going to have trouble walking, he could think of better ways of getting there.
It was mostly dark still, though he could see the horizon was beginning to lighten a bit off to the side. They were mainly heading south now. Another hour on the road max. He was a bit surprised when he felt the tap on his shoulder. He turned and noticed her pointing to something in the distance. It looked like nothing more than a shadow at first, but as he got closer, the form of an old barn took shape. It looked abandoned.
The trouble was that south of the Hill Country, the land had gotten flatter, drier, and browner. There were hardly any trees to be found. That meant finding a place to hide Mercy while he checked things out or fueled up was becoming more and more difficult.
He checked out the rearviews. Nothing on the road, but if something did come along, a woman alone on a country road would immediately raise alarm bells. He had no choice. He’d have to take her with him while he checked it out.
He took the Duchess offroad. And though the ride got rougher, her traction held as they kicked up a dust cloud. He circled it once, then stopped the motorcycle around back. At least no one could see them from the road now. She was off the bike before he could say anything.
“I told you,” were the last words any man wanted to hear from his woman. But this time, he was glad that she seemed to be right.
“You stay with the Duchess while I check things out.”
Damn, she was sexy with that look on her face and her hand on those curvy hips. For a little chick, she had those in all the right places. “Please? Please, what?” He could think of a few ways he’d like to please his woman.
“Please stay here. You do realize that this is the twenty-first century and that women no longer need men to save them, right?”
“Sweetheart, I was raised by one of the strongest women you’d ever find. Etta Mae Williams faced down firehoses, police, and national guard armed with nightsticks and teargas. But she did it all alongside my Grandfather Walt. Black women stand side-by-side with their men. Sometimes they even take the lead. But now is not a good time for a revised history lesson. My apologies if I sounded condescending.”
Will was not sure which he loved more, the way she bit her bottom lip or the rosy blush to those cheeks. He was pretty sure though that was not the response she had been expecting. Hell, maybe she was even right. But that did not lessen his need to keep his miracle safe.
He knew he would have to deal with those feelings, though. If she got her way, and she very well might, then they were going straight into the mouth of the lion as his grandfather had preached. Of course, he was still debating that one. As much as he wanted, or needed, to follow this lead, to do right by Bebe, was it worth putting her at that kind of risk?
The old doors creaked loudly as he forced them open. That was a good sign. This place probably had not been used in a while. It would also mean that no one could sneak up on them easily. The spaces between some of the broken boards would allow him to see in all directions without being seen.
Of course, it was not the St. Regis. Heck, there was no bed or running water. And who knows how old that little bit of hay in the corner was? Or what lived there? He did not want to think about it.
She might be right. Mercy probably would handle this better than he did. His grandmother had always kept their home meticulously clean. He could almost hear her say, “Just because the good lord made mice, spiders, and cockroaches don’t mean we need to invite them in the house.”
But he could almost imagine his country girl keeping a spider or snake as pets. Oh, sweet Jesus, he hoped not snakes. That was one compromise he was not sure he could make, even for her.
“It seems all clear. At least in terms of two-legged vermin. As for four, six, eight, or slithering, I can’t say. We could keep going for another hour, maybe, if you think we could find better.”
The way she leaned against the Duchess made him wish he had his phone with him. That was a photograph worthy of screen saver status. His favorite girls together had his cock hardening in those too-fucking-tight leathers.
Damn, they would be hot and uncomfortable to sleep in. But he did not dare sleep naked this time. Not that the idea of doing so with this woman bothered him. He could never remember actually sleeping with any woman. Oh, well, always a first for everything.
She looked straight at him. Or was she staring at his crotch? No way, not the little librarian.
“This place is as good as any. Probably better. We can hide your ‘duchess’ inside the barn with us, city boy. Want me to help you get her inside? Or should I do the ‘little woman’ thing and set up house?”
He shook his head with a smile. Life with this one was going to be a hell of a ride – a fun one at that. He just had to make sure they survived for another fifty years or so.
“If it bothers you that much, I’m happy to switch with you. You manage the Duchess, and I’ll make the bed. And for the record, yes, I cook and clean. My grandmother believed that we should all know how to do those things, and share the responsibilities for them.” He laughed at a memory.
“What’s so funny?” Her hands were back on those hips. He’d much rather his hands were on them.
“I just remembered a story my Grandfather Walt told me when I asked why he always did the ironing.”
“Okay, now you have me curious. Out with it, city boy, this I gotta hear..”
“When they were first married in the late fifties, Grandfather Walt had just finished seminary and had his first church. Looking polished in his suit, tie, and dress shirt was expected. Not just on Sunday, but every day.”
She nodded her head as he continued, “My grandfather had the temerity to tell my grandmother that her ironing was not quite up to par. She threw his shirts in his face and told him that he could iron his own blessed shirts from then on.”
Will’s throat got incredibly tight at the memories, “Blessed was my grandmother’s way of cursing, mind you. But from that day on, ironing was my grandfather’s chore. You know what he told me? He learned that ironing was not as easy as it looked. And to never criticize the way anyone does something until you have done it yourself.”
She adjusted the backpack on her shoulder and walked by his side as he pushed the motorcycle inside. “Your grandparents sound like pretty amazing people. My grandfather was a Methodist preacher, too. He disowned Mama and called her a whore the day they deported my sperm donor.”
“I can’t even imagine. My grandparents would have never done or said anything like that. They always preached about not throwing the first stone or turning the other cheek. Seven times seventy. That’s four-hundred-ninety.”
Had he? He had not kept count, but Will was reasonably sure that he had turned his cheeks to racism and prejudice way more than four-hundred-ninety times. He opened the door further and guided the Duchess inside.
The anger, hurt, and confusion that he had been feeling so intensely since his grandmother’s death was still there, but there was something else as well – hope. Since the moment that his Mercy walked out that library door, the despair had been shunted aside.
Yes, they still faced insurmountable challenges. Yes, this world was still a suck-ass place that was not fair or just. Yes, they and their children might face discrimination and prejudice. But with her by his side, they’d face it all. Maybe even find some way to make the world a better place, or at least their little corner of it.
Wasn’t that what he’d watched his grandparents do for his whole life? Hadn’t it been enough for them? Another of his Grandfather Walt’s old adages flitted through his mind – fight the good fight. Watching her, he knew this was a warrior woman that he’d always be proud to have by his side.
Mercy sat that bag down and began to unpack things. More water, what looked like energy bars, what all did she have in there? Those innocent eyes looked up at him, “Can I ask you something?”
He leaned the Duchess on her stand and knelt beside her on that dirt floor. His hand reached out and tenderly cupped her cheek. He loved the way she closed her eyes and leaned into that caress. But it only made those damned pants more uncomfortable. “Sweetheart, you can always ask or tell me anything.”
“Why did your grandparents raise you? What happened to your parents?”
Surprisingly, it was never a question that had bothered Will. It was what it was, that simple. “If you call Ignacio Garcia, your sperm donor, then I suppose the best description of Mariam Williams is the woman who gave birth to me.” He said the words without any hint of animosity because he had none. He felt nothing for the woman, one way or the other.
“Dr. Williams is a professor of history at Howard. She never bought into Dr. King’s non-violence. She thought, thinks, it does not go far enough. Her doctoral dissertation was on the history of the Black Panthers. She did hundreds of hours of interviews, especially the more militant members who were in prison or on the run.”
It was the one thing that he did have a problem with. “I don’t know who my father was. She never told my grandparents and won’t tell me, either. Other than a revolutionary, I can be proud of.”
“Honestly, I’m surprised she chose to have me. Other than the fact that my grandparents promised to raise me, and it was convenient for her since she was at home writing her dissertation anyway. None of her friends even know about me. Or if they do, they think I’m her baby brother.”
“That must have been hard growing up.” She reached over and gently squeezed his hand.
He stared at their fingers woven together. The play of shades of brown, darker on pale, was visually appealing. Ironically, they were almost the shades that decorated his small one-bedroom apartment in Houston.
But he knew that it would not matter what color her skin was, it could be plaid or polka-dotted, hell that alien grey, and this would be the only woman for him.
He lifted their hands to his lips and kissed the back of hers. “Honestly, I never gave it much thought when I was little. My grandparents treated me like their child. Most of my teachers and friends just assumed that they were my parents.”
“What about you? What was it like growing up in Sebida?”
The way she turned her head and began to fidget with the bag told Will more than any words could. “I should set up somewhere for us to sleep. Then we can eat a couple of energy bars, some trail mix, and water. I promised Mama I would call her this morning. Then we can get some sleep before we get back on the road. Will we make it as far as Mexico tonight?”
He figured they had a lifetime for him to learn her secrets, and he would. For now, she was probably right. “Yes, actually, we’re only a couple of hundred miles from there. Once we are over the border, then we can travel the main roads. Stay in hotels and eat in restaurants even.”
She layout one of those metallic emergency blankets. “What, city boy? Didn’t you ever camp out under the stars as a kid?”
“Afraid not, my country girl. Oh, and one thing, no rats, spiders, or snakes for pets either. Dogs are cool. I can possibly tolerate a cat. But that’s it.”
“Awww, and Mama would never get me that bearded dragon I always wanted. I might have to keep looking. See if I can find a better deal.”
Will turned and drew her into his arms. This time when his lips touched hers, there was nothing tentative or sweet about it. It was a claiming, pure and simple.
By the way that Mercy collapsed against him, rubbing like that kitten, he did not think she had any argument against it either. He was not even sure which of them took it deeper. Did it even matter as their tongues engaged in the sweetest of duels?
His cock was throbbing in those damned tight leathers. His mind was close to exploding with the taste and smell of her. Neither seemed in a hurry to break the kiss or take it any further. Hell, he could kiss this woman until Jesus came back.
If it wasn’t for all the other things they faced. It seemed that revelation occurred to them both at the same time. They drew back simultaneously, but neither could bring themselves to move very far.
Mercy smoothed wrinkles from that damned blanket, even though they both knew that was futile. She passed him another bottle of water and an energy bar. “For the record, this probably tastes better than my cooking. Frozen pizza and ramen noodles are the extents of my culinary expertise.”
He practically spewed water with the laughter that bubbled in him, “Then I’ll do all the cooking like Grandfather Walt did the ironing.”
Mercy watched him as he bit off more of the energy bar. Actually, she could cook. A bit more than frozen pizza and ramen anyway. She might not be gourmet, but all the Reynold’s girls had learned to pull their weight early. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and as they got older, each had taken jobs to get by.
The way this guy talked, their childhoods could not have been more different. Sure, they might both be bastards. But she would bet that he never knew that gnawing in the belly. Mama did what it took to make sure that her daughters had three meals a day. Still, it was never quite enough to fill the belly and stop that gnawing.
Sure, she got the whole black in America thing. A bit too well. Not only had she overheard all the gossip when Elena and Brad started to date, but she had taken her niece shopping in College Station a couple of times.
It was the big city for them, a university town. You would think that people would be more broad-minded than Sebida. To be fair, most of them were. Still, she had gotten more than her fair share of sideways looks and whispers. It made her mad that people, complete strangers, did that to people. At least in Sebida, everyone knew you before they started talking shit about you.
Mercy had trouble breathing as she watched the muscles in his throat move up and down as he finished off his bottle of water. She felt her nipples tighten and did not even want to think about the mess in her panties. She would most definitely need to change those before they got back on the road. Especially if they shared the makeshift bed.
She looked over at it as that debate raged in her mind once more. She was scared. Plain and simple. The idea of sharing her body with a man always frightened the bejesus out of her. Will was the first man that she had ever seriously considered doing that with, but what happened if she could not follow through? What if she had another of those flashbacks? Would he hate her? Hell, the question she did not want to consider, would he even stop if she asked?
Then there were the practicalities. Condoms were one thing that was not in her bugout bag. And as one of the Vestal Virgins, she was not the pill or other contraceptives. Not to even mention sexually transmitted infections. Those photographs in high school were enough to make anyone cringe.
She finished her energy bar and drained the last of the water. But she knew none of that mattered. She was going to do it. Or at least try to. At the ripe old age of thirty-two, Mercedes Reba Reynolds was going to get her V-card punched. Or she hoped so anyway.
“It’s probably too early to call your mother or sister. Do you want to get a couple of hours sleep first? Then give it a try?”
Mercy bit her fingernail; she could take the easy way out. Get some sleep like he said, wakeup, talk to Mama, then jump his bones. The problem with that was she knew the longer she procrastinated, the harder this would be. Well, that might not be so bad in some ways.
But she was sure of this decision. She had waited all these years for a man that was worth the risk, that did more for her, and got her hotter than any ‘book boyfriend.’ That was not going to change.
And frankly, she was still shaken by Kerr’s words. Hell, it was more than his words. She had come close to vomiting when he touched her. The other stuff that he said to her, that did not bear thinking of.
The truth was that tomorrow, they were going straight into danger. What if the things that Kerr said were true? What if this ‘brother’ saw her value only in terms of what he could get for her body? Hell, what if this Diego turned her back over to Kerr? And the idea of ending up a prostitute? NO!
Her body was hers to decide what she did with it. Her virginity, especially, was hers to give to the person that she chose. Not a commodity to be auctioned to the highest bidder.
For all this guy’s sweet words about the future, they might never have anything more than this one night. And if she ever faced the things that Mama had, Mercy wanted one sweet memory. A place where her mind could escape when her body could not.
She felt those tears rising again. And yes, a tiny bit of fear. Even if she technically knew precisely how this was done. Hell, she had written more love scenes than you could count. This was still going somewhere she never had before.
She jumped in; she had always preferred cannon-balling into the deep end over wading into anything. “Or we could find something else to occupy our time and tire us out before those calls?” She hoped the look she gave him passed for seductive. That, too, was not something she had any experience with.
Will leaned back with a sexy smile on those sexier lips, “Did the little librarian have something specific in mind? Chaucer? Shakespeare? Milton? I know I bet you prefer Jane Austen for your bedtime stories.”
She tossed the bottle aside and slid across the dirt floor until she straddled his lap. Mercy wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him closer, zeroing in on those kiss-ass-able lips. “I was thinking more along the lines of those trashy ebooks with naked people on the cover. Maybe even the ones behind Kingdle’s porn wall?”
She lowered her head and began to nibble on his bottom lip as her hips dry-humped what she was almost sure was a damned impressive erection. Hopefully, she would find out for herself soon.