Flint hurried back inside the cabin and slammed the heavy oak door behind him. He shrugged off his leather jacket before slinging it over a chair by the door. “God! It’s cold out there,” he said, rubbing his hands together to warm them up. “From what I could tell, the road is completely iced over. Looks like you’re going to be stuck with me for a while longer. Even if I had my keys back, I wouldn’t make it more than a few feet.” He shook his head, sending a few snowflakes flying to the floor.
Kendra was curled up on the sofa with a blanket, checking messages for the vet clinic on her cell phone. She finished typing a text message to one of her clients and hit send. “Or you’re stuck with me,” she teased back. “However you want to look at it. I have to warn you, I can be pretty cranky at times. Especially if I don’t get my morning cup of coffee. Or lunch. Actually, I’m at my most crankiest if I have to skip lunch. Must be low blood sugar or something. ”
Flint grinned. “Is that a fact? I’ll have to remember to feed you. Maybe I should make a sign that says “Don’t Forget to Feed the Tiger.” He walked past the table where her pistol and shotgun were partially tucked under her coat. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about this. Two guns, Kendra? Pardon my pun, but isn’t that a little overkill?”
Kendra looked up from her phone and shrugged. “Yeah, maybe,” she replied. “I feel better with the guns in here than in the truck. After all, someone shot you. Who is to say they won’t come here looking for more?”
Flint frowned, a flash of concern crossing his face before he quickly hid it. Damn! Why hadn’t he given more thought to keeping Kendra safe? He always knew there was a chance the Liberators would come after him, but until now the thought hadn’t occurred to him that Kendra might be in danger as well. All because of him.
Kendra immediately picked up on his change of mood. “You’re worried too,” she said perceptibly. “Aren’t you?”
“Not really,” Flint replied. “There’s no need to be worried. Jesse assured me that nobody knows where we are except for our crew, and they can be trusted. Hopefully the temperature will warm up tomorrow and we can both leave. We need to get you back to town so that you can take care of all of those sick animals.”
Kendra nodded in agreement. “Isn’t that the truth! There’s always plenty of work to do. It seems like I never get caught up. There’s always another sick animal to examine.”
“Mind if I sit with you?” Flint asked, plopping down on the other end of the sofa before she replied. He pointed to her cell phone, where she was rapidly typing another text message. “Is the vet clinic open on weekends?”
Kendra shook her head. “No. Technically, the vet clinic is closed on the weekends. I’m usually on call twenty-four hours a day for emergencies though. If someone needs help with a mama cow that’s having a hard time giving birth, they can’t wait around for business hours to call me. It’s the nature of the business. Long hours and low pay.”
“You go out to their house?” Flint realized he didn’t like the idea of Kendra going to a stranger’s house alone. Especially after seeing how easily she could be tricked into meeting a man about an animal in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t she realize there were bad people out there? He felt strangely protective of her but didn’t dare show it.
“Barn usually,” she corrected. “Or pasture. It’s not like they can load the big animals up and bring them to me. It’s not so bad though. Spring and summer are the busiest months. In February and March the majority of the calves are born, so that keeps me busy. Then starting in mid-April, all of the orphaned baby birds and mammals start flooding in to the wildlife clinic. From April until the first of October, the clinic is crazy. We work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week.”
“Wow! Sounds intense. How do you get paid for that?”
Kendra laughed. “We don’t. Not for the wildlife rehab stuff. It’s all volunteer based. I have a terrific group of wildlife rehabilitators who come in several days a week to help out. We wouldn’t be able to keep the clinic open without them since the clinic survives solely on donations. I assume your brother mentioned he offered to give the clinic the proceeds from the charity ride in the spring?”
“Yeah,” Flint answered. “He told me how they practically strong-armed you into taking care of me. I really do feel bad about that,” he added sincerely. “We’ll make it up to you, I promise. The MC will deliver on the money for your clinic. You have my word. If it had been my decision, I would have found another way. What they did was wrong.”
Kendra’s eyebrows shot up in surprise that he would go against the MC.
“Jesse and I don’t always see eye to eye on how to handle things in the club,” Flint explained. “He’s more of an ‘act first, apologize later’ kind of guy, and I’m more strategic. Methodical. We usually end up in the same place, we just choose different ways to get there.”
Kendra quietly turned off her phone. “What about your other brother, Sam? What is he like?”
A shadow crossed Flint’s face at the mention of his younger brother. “Sam is stubborn, rebellious, and at times completely out of control.”
“Sounds like you two don’t get along very well.”
“We get along well enough, I suppose,” Flint replied. “Considering what we’ve gone through. Sam still harbors some hard feelings toward me over something I did many years ago. It’s taking me a long time to regain his trust. I understand so I’m willing to give him as much time as he needs.”
Kendra frowned. “What on earth did you do?”
“I left,” Flint replied simply. “I turned my back on my brothers, my dad, the MC, and left town. I moved to Atlanta for a few years and got a job. Started a brand new life. Basically, I abandoned everyone when they needed me the most. Sam never forgave me for that.”
“What made you leave? Did something happen?”
Flint let out a long breath. He honestly didn’t know why he was telling her all this. Normally, he didn’t share personal information about himself with anyone. With Kendra, it was almost like once he started talking, he couldn’t stop. The words flowed over each other in a hurry to get out.
“We’d lost our mom to breast cancer,” he began. “The years before her death were pretty rough on everybody. Watching somebody you love get sicker and weaker by the day...it was hard. Up until then, we had always been a close-knit family. When she passed away, it took a heavy toll on all of us. None of us knew how to deal with our pain. Before long, Dad was drinking too much. Jesse and I started hanging out with the motorcycle club to take our mind off the situation at home. We left Sam all alone to deal with an alcoholic who could be abusive at times. He was only sixteen and too young to join the MC. He felt abandoned when I left town.”
Kendra reached over and gave his leg a comforting pat. “I’m sorry about your mom,” she said. “And Sam.”
“I regret like hell not being there for Sam when he needed me the most,” Flint continued. “I was only twenty at the time and barely more than a teenager myself but still...I should’ve seen that Sam needed his older brothers. Needed me.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Kendra said softly. “Like you said, you were young too. And going through the pain of losing your mom. Taking care of someone else’s needs probably wasn’t high on your list of priorities at the time.”
He shook his head. “That’s not a good excuse. Leaving Sam there to deal with Dad was too much for a kid to handle. Thank God for Jesse. When I left, he stepped up like a man and started helping out around the house. He was the brother I should have been.”
Flint had never told anyone his feelings of guilt where Sam was concerned. He’d never even admitted it to himself until after the phone call came about Tommy’s death. For years, he’d managed to keep a distance between himself, his family, and the MC.
After moving to Atlanta, he’d eventually enrolled in college more as a joke than anything else. He never expected to do so well. Many years later, he found himself working for the Public Defender’s office and was quickly on his way to earning a name for himself. Not one time had Flint ever regretted the hard choices he’d made. Not until Tommy’s death.
“So what’s it like now between you and Sam?”
“Strained.” Flint let out a humorless laugh. “Tense most of the time. He resents anything and everything I say or do.”
“Jesse said he owned a tattoo parlor.”
“Yes, he does. The Liberators hit it last night as well.”
“Was there a lot of damage?” Kendra didn’t let on that she already knew about the attack.
“Enough,” Flint replied. “The plate glass window on the front of the store was broken when they threw the Molotov cocktail through it. That’s about it. The bottle didn’t explode and ignite a fire, thank God. The Liberators were sending us a message. That’s why I’m so eager to get back to town. To help Sam repair the shop and put it back together. Plus it’s our primary source of income, so we need to open for business as soon as possible.”
Kendra blinked in confusion. “Wait a minute! You said “our” source of income. Are you a tattoo artist too?”
Moment of truth.
In a split second, Flint realized he didn’t want her to know the truth about what he did, or used to do, for a living. He didn’t want her to know he had been a respected attorney who defended poor clients. For some reason, he felt a compelling need for her to like him as he was now. For what he was now.
Good or bad, it wouldn’t be fair to let her believe he was something better than he was.
“I dabble,” he replied, a smile playing around his lips. “I can do a pretty mean tat.” Which wasn’t an outright lie. He’d done hundreds of tattoos in his life. It just wasn’t what he had gone to college for four years and then on to law school to learn how to do. Though compared to the money he made as a public defender, he might have been better off doing tattoos from the beginning.
“Have you ever thought about getting one?” he asked casually.
Kendra laughed and shook her head. “I can honestly say that no, I’ve never considered getting a tattoo. Don’t they hurt?”
“Not too bad if the person doing them is experienced and fast.”
Flint quickly slid over. Turning her around slightly, he tugged the hem of her sweater up. Kendra jumped when his fingers touched her lower back. He traced an outline slowly, delicately with both hands.
She gasped. “What are you doing?”
“A hummingbird,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Small and colorful with its wings outstretched in flight. Delicate and beautiful.”
“What?” she asked again as his fingers continued to draw the imaginary hummingbird.
“Let me design a tattoo for you. I’ll do something special. And I promise to do it as fast and painless as possible.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied hesitantly. “I don’t see myself as a tattoo kind of gal.”
He caressed his thumbs over the small of her back once more before removing his hands and pulling the hem of her sweater back down. “Then maybe it’s time to start seeing yourself differently, darling,” he drawled in that deep Southern accent she was beginning to find irresistible.