Torched_ Afterburn - Shay Mara

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By the time I’d reached middle school, most of the girls my age had already planned the wedding of their extravagant fantasies. The dress, the location, the cake, even the stupid centerpieces. Of course, the man they envisioned was usually some teeny-bopper dreamboat from music or the movies, because who actually has a thing for dentists or accountants at that age?

As for me, I couldn’t remember reading a single Cosmo Girl or Teen Beat or whatever ridiculous rags all those girls devoured. My formative years were spent just trying to stay in school and out of the system. And while I considered the local library more of a home than the one I actually slept in, I preferred medieval history over makeup tips and useful manuals over angst-filled advice columns. Never mind stylish must-haves, I was generally more worried about scrounging up enough change from the couch cushions to buy clothes from the local thrift store.

As for my teenage years, the ones after my own father hung me out to dry, those mostly became about simply surviving from one day to the next, not bringing down even more misery on myself by hoping for things that would never be in the cards. Sure, I loved reading about powerful monarchies and rulers throughout the times, but not once did I dream about some brave knight showing up to whisk me away. If he had, I probably would’ve slammed the door in his face thinking he’d gotten the wrong maiden’s address. For this maiden wasn’t some sweet and soft-spoken lady who could be rescued with a gentle kiss, not even close.

But, sometimes life throws a bone to even the most cynical among us, and—perhaps by some cosmic clerical error—I did end up getting my gallant knight. He just happened to ride in on a Harley instead of a horse, clad in worn leather instead of clunky armor. By biker club standards, I even got the extravagant wedding.

It was a beautiful backyard affair, complete with a vintage, white lace dress, wildflower arrangements, a folk-rock band, and a leather runner in the Serpents’ gray and black colors. Out of eighty guests, only two and a half were technically from my side, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My best friend, Lexi, played Maid of Honor; her hubby, Neil, graciously walked me down the aisle; and Chloe, well, that little girl stole the entire show as our flower girl. She rode in giggling on the back of a custom Mini Harley driven by the ring bearer, a ten-year-old son of a club member.

Under a rustic, wood pergola stood my noble groom, the extraordinary man who’d planned the entire thing and executed it within hours of bringing me home. I had no regrets; all eleven months I’d spent in prison were beyond worth it.

Torch Larter made it all worth it.

Shitty past be damned, his love shined a warm light inside the darkest crevices of my damaged soul. In the eyes of society, he was far from perfect, but to me he was absolutely everything. Torch may have been a little rough around the edges, but beneath that exterior he was the epitome of strength, substance, and compassion.

I had no idea what I’d done in a past life to deserve such a reversal of fortune, but here we were, riding side-by-side on our way back from an utterly sublime honeymoon. Forget Paris or the Bahamas, I was a simple girl with simple needs, and the gloriously lazy month we’d just spent bunkering down in cozy cabins and cruising around the Rocky Mountains were better than any all-inclusive resort package.

There were bound to be some bumps in the road now that we were heading back to everyday reality, but every time I glanced over at my husband squinting against the sun’s glare, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of inner peace. It made no difference what life threw at us, we would muddle our way through and come out the other end stronger.

Hell, we’d already started mastering the art of compromise. At Torch’s insistence that I not tarnish the club’s image by riding around town on an “embarrassing, piece of shit rice burner”, I’d let my beloved Hayabusa be locked away in storage and was currently straddling a new Harley Night Rod. Piece of shit my ass, I knew he was just weary of how fast the Busa could go; but nonetheless, I’d agreed to switch brands on the condition that