| 24 | Demon’s Oasis ||

Lacey took a deep breath and wrapped her arms tighter around Devlin’s waist. The rumbling beast between her legs picked up speed, carrying them off to only God knows where. Well, maybe God had no idea where the hell they were going.

She smiled and nuzzled her face in his back. Why the heck was she smiling? She shrugged the question off. Because she was―was―happy. She opened her eyes; her brows pulled tight together. She felt the light, giddy feeling of joy and the thrill of speed, the freedom of doing what she wanted to do, which was be with Devlin despite her rational thought, that nagging, annoying, mothering, smothering voice that wanted to steal all her guilty pleasures.

Practicality. It was overrated.

For February, it was a temperate day. The sun was shining, the wind pleasant. For all intents and purposes, it was a heat wave for that time of year. After his impromptu meeting that interrupted their breakfast, Devlin was in a god-awful mood for a long while. Eventually, he ventured out of his office, retrieved her from her observation point on the couch and simply said, “I’ll take you home.” Without hesitation, she set her tea mug on the coffee table and let him pull her to the door. He dropped her off with just a kiss and a grunt that she thought was goodbye, and he was off. She half expected him to forgo their date―

She paused at the thought. Was this a date? Well, it kind of was. They set a time and a date to meet, but there was no plan. Well, she supposed going for a ride was a plan, but there was no actual plan. To be truthful to herself, she had to admit that it was eating at her that there was nothing spelled out, or, maybe there was, and she just had no idea what it was. She had a feeling that Devlin didn’t, either.

Deep breath. This is his outing, let go and let him do it. It was so hard for her to let go, but she thought she was doing a good job.

The bike slowed, and Devlin turned off the highway down a dirt road that had an orchard sign out front.

She frowned.

It was not harvesting season for anything. He slowed and parked the bike in the designated parking spaces near a cute lodge-style home.

A short, round man with rosy cheeks came outside and waved. “Michael. It’s been a long time.”

Devlin got off the bike after helping Lacey off first.

“Mr. Pope.” Devlin pulled the man into a hug.

“Well,” the older man said, and pulled Devlin away at arm’s length. “The last time I saw you, ya had to be about three feet shorter.”

Devlin smiled. “I was here a few months ago, old man. Nanny?”

The man laughed a grandfatherly sound that made Lacey smile from the inside. “Oh, she’s inside making a pie, as usual. If you’da let her know you were coming, she’d had a bunch packed up for the other boys.”

“You know I just ride when I get on my bike.”

The man’s twinkling blue eyes fell on Lacey. “Well, I’m glad you’re here. Who’s your lady friend?” The man’s mischievous eyes landed back on Devlin.

“Lacey. She’s a pain in the ass, but she’s the only one that’ll put up with me today; so, I guess she’s stuck with me.”

Lacey’s frown loosened when she met mischievous black eyes.

 “So, he’s in a mood.” The man said, out the side of his mouth as he offered his hand. His rosy cheeks were round from smiling. “Nice to meet you, young lady. I’m about to feed the horses. Feel free to go in. Nan would love to see you.”

“I think we’re going to walk in the orchard for a bit first. While the weather is nice and all.”

“It’s a perfect day for that. I’ll let her know. Sure, she’ll rustle up something for food.”

“Thanks,” Devlin said, grabbed Lacey’s hand and led her past the man’s cottage.

“We should have gone inside and said hello to his wife. It’s the polite thing.”

Devlin’s laugh caught in his throat when he met her glare of disapproval. “Listen, honey; if you don’t know by now that I’m the furthest from polite, I’m not sure when you’ll learn. It’s Nan. She’ll be fine. It’ll give her time to straighten the house up. Trust me; she’ll be grateful for it.”

They walked in silence for a while until Lacey broke it.

“Michael?”

His laughter made her look over at him.

“My middle name.”

“Hmm,” she tapped her chin. She didn’t know that. “Your parents like to play with the whole devil angel theme, huh? Archangel Michael, savior of virtue and mankind, righteous in all he did. Then there was the Devil―”

“The first black sheep, the only angel that had the nut sack to step outside shit that was expected of him and live life on his own terms.”

Silence.

“That’s one way to look at it, I suppose.”

Another lengthy silence where she watched his brain churn. She wrapped her arms around his waist and wedged herself in the nook between his arm and side. He looked down at her, and his frown loosened a bit, his midnight eyes calmed.

“Why did you say Lucifer was an angel first?”

She stopped, and he stopped with her. They faced each other. She held his dark eyes for an extended period of time, and he searched hers. She didn’t have to ask what he was looking for. She already knew: salvation. “I said it because we sometimes forget that even in the furthest reaches of darkness, there’s still light, and it’s coming from within us.”

He raised a suspicious eyebrow. “You honestly believe that?”

“I do because it’s true. It’s what we do with the choice we had, not what we did with the ones that came and went.”

“My mom was―”

“It doesn’t matter what she did or didn’t do. From the way you talk about her, she raised you to be good. She was a positive influence in your life.”

“She was a fraud.”

“No,” her voice was as gentle as her touch on his hand. “She was just flawed like me, like you.”

His midnight orbs searched hers, then traced her face and the corner of his mouth lifted. He turned, grabbed her hand, and started walking. “My mom took me here when I was younger.” He started, after a while. “Just the two of us. My sister spent a lot of time with my aunt Emily in California. My mom’s attempt at keeping her safe, keeping her pure, balanced. Little luck that was, the girl is worse than me.”

“I find that difficult to believe.” She laughed. He had a sister. A flood of questions ran through her mind, but she kept them contained. The last thing she wanted to do was make the man feel like he was being interrogated, again. “What did you do here?”

He shrugged. “Picking apples, tending the horses, chopping wood. There’s always something to do on a farm. That’s what Nanny would say. Spent lots of time with the Popes.” He took a deep breath. “Nanny hated calling me Devlin. She was a very religious woman then.”

“She’s not anymore?”

He shook his head. “When she found out my middle name was Michael, that’s who I was from them on. Ma said that was pretty much immediately after I was born.” He chuckled and looked at his feet, deep in thought.

More silence, walking, the crunch of snow under their boots. The fog of their breath swirled in the air. “My dad was on the road a lot. Duty or choice, he never said which. He’d ride a lot with Duprey.”

“Who’s that?” She heard the name floating around among the bikers while she was cooking them breakfast, but she didn’t understand the mention.

“He’s my father’s half-brother. I didn’t know that back then. I hated when he called me nephew. None of the other bikers called me that, and I didn’t understand why he did.” He looked out in the distance at the barren landscape. They’d wandered into an apple orchard. The trees were mostly bare, save for a few with terrible-looking apples dangling down. “They were inseparable, my dad and Duprey. The only things they didn’t do together were shit and fuck.”

She gasped at his vulgarity and glanced over to find a smirking Devlin looking back. She frowned at him and shook her head, trying not to let him see her humor.

“About three years ago, shit changed. Duprey’s involvement with my father’s death made all the brothers question him. He said nothing at his trial. Nothing in his defense. I didn’t understand it, but I get it now.” Devlin reached up in one of the trees and pulled off the old apples, abandoning them on the ground.

“What you do that for?”

He glanced at her over his shoulder. “Make room for new fruit in the spring.”

She smiled, linked arms with him, and rested her head on his shoulder. She liked seeing this side to him.

“You and your mom seemed close. Tell me about her.”

He looked over at her, and his dark eyes smiled. “When I was younger, we’d do all kinds of shit together. She wanted to keep me away from the clubhouse. At that time, it was above a laundromat. Different place, same bunch of bastards that I grew to love. When my dad was in town, she couldn’t keep me away from that place if she wanted to. I wanted to be just like him.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. People respected him. He was loud and welcoming, unless you got on his bad side, which I did a bunch of times.”

She smiled, letting the low rumble of his voice settle under her skin. She could only imagine what hell the fiendish youth caused his father. Probably nothing the man hadn’t caused his own parents before.

She liked this. She liked this side of him. A strangled cry got caught in her throat when she was pressed against the trunk of an old thirty-foot tall apple tree.

Devlin cupped her face and pulled her bottom lip between his teeth.

“Devlin.”

“What?” He started kissing down her neck. “It’s been so hard not kissing you.” He trapped her face in his palm and stroked her cheek. He held her gaze for a long moment before leaning down to kiss her. “I’m tired of talking, Lacey.” His hand slipped around her waist, and she arched toward him. Hell, she was tired of talking too.

“It’s cold.” Her stomach rumbled its qualms too.

He pulled away with a smirk. “Food first, then I’ll take you home.”

“That’s what you said the other night and I ended up in your bed.”

He smiled and took her hand. “My bed, yours, it’s all the same.”

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