The Harley’s engine came to life silently. Tink’s face was broad and grinning, her happiness beaming in all directions as bright as a star. It was infectious, and Oakley felt herself smiling right back.
“Oh my God, Tink. It works. It actually works.”
Tink just nodded.
It wasn’t really her Harley anymore. It looked totally different now. And while Oakley couldn’t understand half of the jargon Tink threw at her, she did speak this; something that somewhat resembled her Softail with a wonky-looking Harley V-twin that looked like it exploded extension cords all over the place was silently running like a motorcycle. There was a battery cell, she knew that. Tink had done something to that engine that used most of its parts to operate the Harley’s drive train. No gasoline, no motor oil. A solar panel that plugged in to the battery cell. They were going to let the bike run in place to see how much of its life was lost in an hour of just idling. Then she’d ride it around for an hour, then two. Right now it appeared the battery required eight hours to fully recharge from dead.
She knew Tink had ripped apart an electric car to help her plan. Oakley was willing to bet her bike was almost as much a Nissan as it was a Hog now.
As silly as it seemed, Oakley missed the noise of the Harley’s twin cam engine.
“You’re so smart you’re practically an alien,” Oakley murmured, hand on the seat. It wasn’t shaking, it was still as the truly dead.
“I knew it would work,” Tink finally breathed, the wonder in her own voice making Oakley realize this feat was half guessing, half luck.
“You’re bloody amazing, Tink.” Oakley wrapped her up in a big hug that picked her up off her feat. “I’ve got something special for you.”
“Hope it’s cigarettes.”
Oakley grinned, heading back to the bag she’d dropped on the grass behind Tink’s shop. She yanked the ties open, pulling out Marlboros, of course, as well as a bottle of Patron tequila.
“No way!” Tink squealed, running forward and snagging the bottle. “Where’d you get Patron?”
“Couple trips ago. I thought it would be a good installment for the bike. I just owe you about twelve more.”
“I am so opening this tonight.”
Oakley grinned wider. Everyone was pretty excited for Matilda’s nineteenth. For whatever reason, Memee had decided that the nineteenth birthday made a person an adult. So for the past three or four years, everyone’s nineteenth birthday involved a huge bash. Oakley made some pretty fantastic trades from people just before someone’s nineteenth birthday. After all, she was the one out there getting alcohol. The supply runs did not cover libations.
“Yeah,” Oakley agreed with a back slap. “Pretty good timing, Tink.”
“What’d you get for Matty?”
“That spiced rum she likes so much.”
Tink nodded. “Excellent. So I hear Hunter’s men are back.”
Oakley nodded. She had know today would be the day they set up their winter camp close to the front gates of Greenwater. But to keep wraps on her inside knowledge she pretended she only noticed that morning.
Tink didn’t know about Hunter, Oakley was pretty sure of that. That was good. The rumours weren’t running as wild as she’d feared.
“Yeah. Speaking of which, Memee wants me to come with her to invite the guys to Matilda’s party.”
“Cool. I’ll leave this going until you’re back.”
“Perfect. I’ll be by as soon as we’re done.”
Oakley left Tink marvelling at her own genius while clutching her cigarettes and tequila tightly. Jess waved brightly from the bench on the porch before turning back to her book.
Memee and Rainbow were just making their way down the front walkway as Oakley strolled by. Oakley hated the delighted grin on Rainbow’s face. Memee was, as always, impossible to read.
“Sawyer will be taking another crew out tomorrow. We’re thinking we should stock up as much as we can before winter,” Memee started with as Oakley fell into stride next to her. “Fewer trips out bringing more in each time. The cargo truck has been adapted to electricity so that will help.”
It would help, but Oakley hated enclosed vehicles. They were just another way to get trapped.
It seemed soon to be going out again, especially if Sawyer was showing signs of being a little gun shy. But Oakley had said she’d help and that couldn’t change now.
If Hunter was going to do what he could to stay in Memee’s good books, she’d do the same.
As they approached the gates the two women on watch pulled them open, giving a head-dip of respect to Memee as their threesome passed through. Oakley could see the men’s camp was coming along. They had their vehicles parked among the small wooden shacks that were left behind when they vanished each spring. They were unloading bedrolls and packs from the trucks, and a huge reefer cube truck was parked next to the gates.
That was the thank you gift, Oakley knew. It was full of frozen meat.
At their approach two men broke off from a group erecting a canvas tent, one of whom gave a sharp whistle that brought Hunter’s attention up to their group. His men fell in step behind him, and Oakley fought down her reaction to seeing him again, all business, stalking towards them ready to go through with this formal request for Greenwater’s protection and help for the next four months.
“Memee,” Hunter greeted Greenwater’s leader warmly.
Memee smiled at him politely, taking his hand in a shake then nodding to his lieutenants. One Oakley recognized, his name was Tap. The other guy appeared to be brand new. Tap gave Oakley a wide grin that was smug. She didn’t take it personally; that was just how he was.
The new guy smelled a bit like trouble. The way his dark eyes roamed over Rainbow, Memee and then her as well made her skin crawl a little. And when he realized she caught him looking he didn’t drop his eyes from hers.
Oakley looked away first.
“Hunter, Tap,” Memee said equally friendly. “Who’s the new guy?” She sounded as impressed with him as Oakley was.
“This is Sharp,” Hunter said, indifferent.
“A pleasure, Sharp,” Memee told the new recruit.
He blinked in return.
“All righty then,” Memee mumbled, turning her politician smile on Hunter. “You’re welcome to camp here for the winter with out blessing and hospitality.”
That made Tap chuckle in a very man’s-man way. Oakley shook her head at him, managing not to laugh. She knew Tap was a cad. He’d starve and still be happy as hell as long as he was getting laid.
“We appreciate Greenwater’s generosity. The truck is loaded with frozen deer, and this year we were far enough north we managed to get bison as well.”
Memee’s eyebrows went up. “You were busy this year. Thanks to you and your men. You’ve arrived on a very lucky day. One of our residents is celebrating a birthday tonight. We’ll be celebrating around dinnertime. You’re welcome to join us for that, as long as the men remember to behave.”
Hunter ducked his head. “Of course, Memee. We’d be happy to join you.”
“Wonderful. Can I also speak to you privately?”
Hunter raised on eyebrow at the request. “Of course.”
Memee led him by the arm away from the group, and when they were out of earshot Tap jolted Oakley in the elbow. “Oakley, how you been?”
“Still on this side of the grass, Tap.”
He nodded, tongue in his cheek as he looked her up and down. “You look like you’ve had a good year, sweetheart.”
“You touch me and I’ll have you on your back so fast your head will spin.”
“Now you’re just trying to turn me on.”
This was how it was with Tap. She didn’t take him seriously about ninety-eight percent of the time. But she was always a bit wary.
Sharp had been watching their exchange expressionless. Rainbow must have been getting the same vibe from Sharp that Oakley did, because she ignored him entirely. “Tap, does that bullshit ever work?”
Oakley could have laughed. If anyone knew how well that worked it was Rainbow.
Tap smiled, taking his lanky body her way in two strides. “Oh, Freckles. You know you’ve missed me.”
Oakley frowned at that nickname. Rainbow didn’t have freckles … that she knew of, anyway.
Rainbow blushed as soon as he called her that, dropping her head down, making Tap laugh low in his throat. “Right,” he drawled out. “I’ll be looking for you tonight, baby.”
Rainbow took a reactionary step back and Oakley managed not to laugh.
By now Hunter was heading their way again, and he looked … pissed. Oakley had a bad feeling. Memee was behind him but her face was still blank.
“Let’s get back to work,” Hunter snapped at his crew, not meeting her gaze.
Memee started to the gate, Oakley and Rainbow followed without having to be told.
Oakley had no idea what was going on. When the three were back inside the gates Memee turned suddenly, stopping Oakley in her tracks.
“Sorry Oakley,” Memee said in that even-keel tone. “You’re no longer welcome in Greenwater.”
Rainbow looked startled. Oakley gasped out “What?”
“I need the men’s protection and help more than I need you being jealous and selfish. You like it so much more on your own, congratulations. You’re all on your own.”
Rainbow tilted her head. “Memee, what -”
“I won’t expect Hunter to get Matty pregnant. But he tells me he cares about Oakley too much and that’s why he refuses. So the men can stay, but she’s not welcome. She better hope his men will be okay with her along.”
Oakley could hear her pulse pounding in her ears.
“Get her outside the gates and close them,” Memee shouted to Sarah and Tacoma, who were manning the gates. They paused long enough that she had to add, “Right now.”
Oakley wasn’t hard to hustle back outside the perimeter, and Sarah and Tacoma’s faces were apologetic as they rolled the gates closed and locked them.
Oakley swallowed hard. She clenched her hands into fists, letting her short nails dig into her palms. She forced her back straight, then she turned around.
Hunter’s men had all stopped what they were doing and were staring at her. Sharp still looked like he didn’t give a shit, Tap looked stunned, and Hunter still looked furious.
For the first time in years Oakley was again scared of the living more than the undead. And she could only wait to see what was going to happen next.
POLL NOW CLOSED! NEW CHAPTER TO FOLLOW!