VOLUME ONE: RENEGADE
“Ryan, I'm tellin' you, I need my hair pulled, a red handprint across my ass, someone licking my n*****s, a d**k in my treasure cove. I need it all."
Drunk. I am drunk. Like way past the legal limit – otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here spilling all my secrets to my baby brother's best friend. The baby brother who had been totally unplanned by my parents. Ten years my junior, baby brother. He and Ryan are the same age; twenty-five to my thirty-five. Makes me feel so much older just thinking about it. Not only by age, but by life experience, too, although they've probably got me beat. They're cops and have served overseas in the military. Dear Lord, I think I sound like Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women. I'm three sheets to the wind, and nobody stopped me.
I see him try to suppress a grin as he brings his beer up to his lips, taking a nice long pull off the wide mouth. I am mesmerized by the way his throat muscles move when he swallows, pushing the liquid down his throat. No denying he's all man. None of the boyhood shyness he always had with me is anywhere near us tonight. The palm of his hand completely covers the label, the one drink he takes drains half the bottle. For a second he focuses on my face, squinting as he watches me. “How many of those have you had to drink?" He points the neck of his beer to the wine glass in my hand.
His voice is as smooth as the red liquid I swirl in my glass. I tilt my head to the side, realizing the whole room goes right along with it. Counting back, I try to think how many I had before he took the seat next to mine, and I can't remember. “Five or six?" I ask him, like he should know. “What's it to you, Ren-e-gade," I sound out his name by syllables. My words sound slightly slurred to my own ears. “Renegade," I grin. “Anybody ever tell you, you little boys and your nicknames are cute? Just like playing cops and robbers…you with your Renegade, Trevor with his Tank," I'm giggling for real now. “Pew, pew!" I fake shoot him with my finger gun, thinking how pissed off my brother would be if he were here right now. Not Ryan, though, he's patient. God bless him.
“You think maybe it's time you quit for the night?" He gently moves to take what I have left away from me.
His fingers are soft as they try to pry mine from around the stem, but I resist his attempts and pull it closer to my chest. The liquid sloshes and I inhale deeply, hoping not to lose any of it. I'm like a two-year-old with my blankie. This glass of wine is my security and at this moment I'll protect it with everything I have. Once the security is gone, I'm left with nothing. I can't be transparent tonight, I need something shielding me from my reality. I'm a woman on the prowl, and a woman on the prowl is confident in her abilities.
“Quit?" I ask, running my tongue over my dry lips, trying to moisten them so I can form words more easily. “Quitting is not something I do. That's what my ex-husband did. My mama did. That's what my former boss did," I shake my head and try to stand on four-inch stilettos. He reaches out and grabs my elbow, steadying me, being a rock when I haven't had one in a very long time. “Whitney Trumbolt is not a fuckin' quitter." I make my voice as strong and as clear as possible, I fear though that it comes out a slurred mess.
I can see Ryan try again to keep the smile from his face. The corners of his lips twitch, and it pisses me off. Not because I'm mad, but because he thinks it's funny. He thinks this is a joke, and it's not. It's my life. The life I've been trying so desperately to get out from under or save. I'm not sure which yet. All I know is I haven't been living and I'm damn sick of the in-between.
“You think this is funny?" I take another drink from my wine glass. It's a big one this time, I drain it. There's not one drop left when I set it back down on the bar, slapping my lips together with a satisfied pop.
“No, Whit, I think you're having a bad night." His tone is one someone would use with a kindergartner, talking them down from a temper tantrum. It pisses me off too.
A bad night? Try a bad decade. If I could do anything, it would go back to the night I turned twenty-five and be the age that Ryan is again. I would do so many things differently, I would change so much about the choices I made back then. “You know nothing about me, other than the fact that I'm Tank's older sister."
He grabs me by the wrist, locking his hand around the flesh. I feel his fingers lightly touch the skin and bone. It's more of a caress than a warning. I never realized until this moment how much bigger he is than me. Never really paid any kind of attention to it – oh I've paid attention to him off and on through-out the years, but never like this.
Ryan “Renegade" Kepler rises to his full height, towering over me as I do my best to keep my footing and ignore the way my skin tingles where he grips my wrist. He leans in close – so close I can feel his breath on my skin.
“I know a lot of things about you that you don't think I know."
His voice is hard and soft at the same time. I close my eyes to savor it, to try and figure out how he's able to do both. Maybe it's my drunken mind, but he's magic to me in this instant. The deep timbre rushes over me as I try to understand his words, but I'm having a hard time. This is the closest I've been to a man in a very long time. My body is at attention, as is my libido. I press my thighs together as I dig my heels in deeper, not because I don't want him to move me, because I ache. It's an ache that's never been fulfilled, if I'm honest.
“I know that you love your mama's fried chicken, your grandmother's homemade mac and cheese, Alabama football, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. I know that you have a soft heart. Hallmark movies make you cry, you pick up strays on the side of the road, and you always buy that homeless man near the Starbucks a morning coffee," he lulls me into a sense of security. Making me want to believe there is someone out there who listens when I talk, someone who looks at me and sees a brain behind my blonde hair.
I'm wrapped up in his voice, in the things he does know about me. Things I never knew he paid attention to. I'm swaying, but it's because his voice is doing weird things to my equilibrium. His other hand cups my hip and I can feel the heat of his body through the material of my skirt. My thighs burn as they're pressed against his where we stand.
“I know that your ex-husband was a piece of s**t. I know that your ex-boss didn't know what the hell to do with the creative genius that is your mind, and I know that your mama will never forgive you for giving up pageants, but she'll never forgive herself for pushing you that damn hard," he stops and pulls back, giving me his eyes and face to stare at.
Our eyes meet – his brown to my blue – and I realize with clarity that I'm breathing hard, hard enough that it feels as if I've run a marathon. The loss of his strong body against mine makes me want to cry. I want to grasp at his clothing, pull him back in, and let him heat up parts of me that have been cold for so long.
“You wanna know what else I know?" The question is asked in a way that says he's not sure if he wants an answer. The way his face closes off and he withdraws slightly into himself make me think this is a secret he's not shared with anyone. Tonight, I want him to share it with me; I want to be the person he confides in. He knows so much about me, I want to know everything about him too. There's a string of awareness stretched between us, and it's pulling me closer.
I'm captivated by the way the dim lights of the bar make his brown eyes darker, I'm enthralled by the fact that it looks like it's been a few days since he shaved, and I'm even more fascinated by the cut he has on his cheek. He and Tank went out on a call last night, and I can't help but wonder if that cut is the result of a dangerous night doing a dangerous job.
I shake my head and then nod, because I'm conflicted in my drunkenness, but I do want to find out what else he knows. I step forward, put my arms around his neck, and lean up so that now I'm the one in his ear. The truth of the matter is I need to feel close to him, I want the heat back he's taken away from me. I'm cold without it, and I'm sick to death of being cold. “Tell me what else you know."
I see him look around the bar, checking to make sure that we're not being paid any attention to. He bends with his knees and grips my ass cheeks in the palms of his hands, bringing us flush together so our bodies touch. His voice is dark as he all but growls. “I know I'm the one who can put my d**k in that treasure cove. I know I'm the one that can pull that hair, I can pull on those n*****s, and I can smack this ass," he squeezes my flesh like he owns it, where his hands rest. “The question is – will you let me?"
It's not a question I can say no to. The way the air crackles between us, the alcohol I've consumed, and the sudden fascination I have with his heat. There's not any way that I can say no nor is there any desire on my part to deny it. I've denied myself a lot of things in this life and this right here is not something that I want to brush off. This is God giving me what I want on a silver platter, a sacrificial offering for the s**t I've gone through the past few years. This is my Cinderella moment and my SEC Championship all tied together into one great big bow. Over six feet and two hundred pounds of bow. If I say no, Lord, never offer me anything else because I'm gonna be a nun for the rest of my life.
“You're what?" He asks, a glimmer of surprise and playfulness in his eyes.
I said that out loud? Never mind, I can fix this.
“Yes," I breath out, adding on a “please."
“Oh baby, you don't have to beg. I'll do whatever you need me to," Ryan says as I find my hand in his and stumble to keep up as he pulls us out of the bar. We pass people we've known our whole lives, clients I've helped to the altar, and I'm pretty sure we just passed the Deacon of the church. No one stops us as we hit the front door. I gulp in the fresh air, sure as the world my senses are going to come to me.
Guess what? They don't. I'm in for whatever this full moon-lit night is going to bring us. Safe Whitney is not putting the brakes on a ride crazier than a lap at Talladega. No, Wild Whitney has taken her place. Funny how both are four letter words, yet they couldn't be further apart.
In mere minutes I'm in his truck, and we're headed towards my house. I will myself not to pass out, because for the first time in years, I want to be here and present for this experience that's about to happen. I want to remember every damn detail. If it's only going to be for this one night, I don't want to miss a thing.