Free Chapters


Chapter One


Jacob St. Claire walked through the Museum of Science and Industry entrance as though he were King Tut himself. With his shoulders rolled back with confidence, his thick, graying hair slicked back away from his face, he strutted through the crowd until he finally found what he’d been hunting. His daughter.

Addison caught her father’s eye through the thick crush of investors, charity mongrels, and politicians and froze. He’d been expecting her to meet him at his home so they could arrive at the fundraiser together. Appearances were extremely important to Jacob St. Claire, and having to search out his daughter didn’t look good. Even from across the room, with dozens of people milling around between them, he could send a lightning strike of agitation through her.

“Addy, you okay?” Her lifelong friend, Charity, followed Addison’s gaze. “Oh. He’s pissed.” She whispered the obvious.

Not many people would be able to look at Jacob and know exactly what he was thinking. Putting on a show for the public came first; his anger would have to wait. But Addison and Charity knew him, knew the little crinkle on the side of his mouth wasn’t caused from a happy-to-be-here smile; no, anger boiled just below the surface.

Addison handed Charity her glass of wine and excused herself. Better to hurry to his side now than to make him continue stalking her. Going to him would alleviate some of his anger, but not all of it. Her father was an important man in the city. Sitting high on the committee of zoning, he could put businesses in business or out, depending on his mood, and their wallet size. Growing up she’d seen her father as a shining soldier, like most daughters did. He was her daddy after all, and daddies would always be heroes to their little girls. But as she’d grown up, she’d seen things, heard things, learned things that made the halo over her father’s head less radiant, less straight until it was all but a rusted ring dangling from his shoulder.

“Hi, Daddy.” She stepped up to him as he finished his conversation with another investor. He plastered on a large grin and leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“Addison.” He gripped her shoulders, fingers digging into her as he placed another kiss to her opposite cheek. “You were supposed to meet me at the house, you made me late.” No one around them could hear him, and if they could, she wondered if his poisonous tone would give them the same skin-crawling sensation it did her.

It didn’t matter. After tomorrow, she’d be free. Free of her father’s attempts to control her life. Free of whatever arrangements he made for her future. No more wondering how he would react to a decision she’d made. He would be occupied, up to his receding hairline in legal trouble.

“I’m sorry. Charity picked me up, and we went for dinner before heading over.” She curled her lips into the polite smile she’d perfected over the years. Her father didn’t hold a senate seat or such power as that, but that didn’t matter. There were plenty of people wanting to buy his votes, his cooperation, or his signature. He was well known in polite society, and other societies as well.

Just another day, and she’d be able to walk away.

“Jesse wanted to accompany us, but he needed to take care of something first. He’ll be around a bit later.” He checked his clunky Rolex and gave her a pinning look. “I assured him you’d be delighted to see him and to accompany him home.”

“I wish you hadn’t.” Addison kept her voice low, hoping she was able to keep her disgust hidden. Just the name Jesse Stephanos made her skin crawl. Hearing that she was expected to accompany him anywhere set her hair to stand on end. “I’m going out with Charity in a bit. We have plans.” Of course, he wouldn’t approve, and she didn’t expect him to; he never did.

“You need to accept your future.”

She knew that tone, knew what it meant, and that arguing against it would be futile.

“Jesse’s a good man.”

Addison looked up at her father then. Good man? Did he even know what that meant anymore? Had he ever? “Daddy, I’m not ready.” She tried to look away, but he gripped her arm. The tightness of his grip drew her attention back to him.

“It’s been a year, Addison. I’ve let you grieve for that drug addict long enough. It’s time for a new start. Jesse can give you that.”

Addison stared down at where his hand held her, seeing the indents on her skin around his fat fingers. He must have realized where they were finally, and released her, rubbing her arm in almost an affectionate way. She wouldn’t bruise, but she’d be sore the next day.

“I can’t. I won’t.” She shook her head. On this subject, she wouldn’t budge. She would not date Jesse Stephanos much less marry him, and after tomorrow, she wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. But the memory of Steven, her fiancé, her dead fiancé, would continue to hold onto her as the days passed. “He wasn’t a drug user,” she mumbled, knowing her father’s anger would only increase with her insistence.

Steven had never so much as smoked a cigarette. No way had Steven driven himself into that wall on I90, too high to even see it coming. It hadn’t happened that way, no matter what the police report or her father had said. Steven’s sin hadn’t been drugs; it had been trying to marry her. If his brakes hadn’t been used, it’s because they hadn’t been working.

“Mr. St. Claire!” A stout man with graying hair interrupted them, holding his hands out in greeting. Addison stepped aside to allow the man full access to her father. She stood idly by while the two exchanged pleasantries. “I was hoping I’d run into you tonight.” At that, Addison looked to her father, having been trained much like Pavlov’s dogs to salivate at the idea of escape whenever those words were uttered in her presence.

“Well, then I’m glad I made the trip this evening. Addison, my dear, why don’t you find Charity. I’m sure she’s waiting for you.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

He added, “Don’t go too far though.” She gave a quick nod and shuffled off into the crowd seeking out the safety of a corner.

Addison found a secluded spot near a dessert table and snatched a glass of wine from a waiter walking by; it wasn’t strong enough, but it would do.

“Hey, there you are.” Charity slid up to her side. “I was beginning to think I was going to have to actually go over by your father.” She gave a weak smile and pushed back a thick curl from her face. Charity stayed as clear of her father as Addison wished she could.

“Someone wanted to do business, I was sent away.” Addison drained the last bit of Pinot from the glass.

“Are we staying, leaving, or are you attached to him now that he found you?” Charity hated the social scene, especially when Addison’s father arrived. Her own father sat on a city board, but didn’t do much work with Addison’s father. The pressure to be the perfect daughter never applied to Charity. Her parents already believed she was the perfect daughter. Unlike Addison, who was under constant attack and surveillance.

She took a deep breath and reminded herself it was only for another night. One more night. Come tomorrow afternoon, she’d be clear of the lies, the corruption, all of it. She’d be able to go out without her father’s men tailing her, tattling her every move to him. She could go to a club, could play with a man and not worry he’d end up with a broken nose the next day. She wouldn’t have to hear about how sick and perverted her life was, and how ashamed he was of her, or listen to any more threats of having her committed to a hospital that would clean her of all of her whorish ways. Her father never understood, and there was no point in trying to explain anymore.

She was twenty-four years old. She didn’t need to explain to him, she just needed to get the hell away from him.

One more night, then she’d have her meeting. Her stomach twisted at the idea. Going to the police station would take every bit of courage she had in her. Going against her father, against the Stephanos family, wasn’t something she’d considered lightly.

“Addison.” Charity touched her shoulder. “What’s up? Why are you so tense tonight?”

Addison threw on a smile, knowing Charity would see right through it. “Nothing. I’m okay. Just tired.” Emotionally and physically, but she wouldn’t go into details. The less Charity actually knew, the better.

“Guess who?” Jackson, Charity’s boyfriend, popped up behind Charity and covered her eyes. It was a childish game, one they’d played since high school when they met.

As usual, Charity giggled and guessed incorrectly, rattling off the names of which ever celebrity she fancied at that moment. Jackson gave her a playful swat to her backside, careful no one but the three of them saw, and spun her around to kiss her.

Addison watched the two of them with the same envy as she’d had when they started dating in school. Even after four years of college spent mostly on opposite sides of the state, they managed to keep their relationship steady. During all the stress and deadlines, Jackson had been Charity’s rock. And when Addison had lost the only thing that mattered to her, had lost Steven, he’d been her rock, too.

“Hey, Jackson.” Addison hugged him. “Wasn’t expecting you.”

“Yeah. I told Charity I probably wouldn’t make it, but I needed a break.” In his last year of law school, Jackson spent most of his time with his nose buried in books.

“I can’t wait for you to finish.” Charity ran her hand over his cheek, pushing away his dark hair.

“A few more months.” He smiled down at her, curling an arm around her waist and pulling her close to him. “I can only stay an hour. What have you girls got planned tonight?”

Addison glanced back over at her father. Had he taken the hint that she wasn’t going anywhere with Jesse Stephanos, or would he still be expecting her to obey him, like some little girl? She caught sight of Jesse walking into the room, his thick black hair slicked back from his olive-skinned face, his dark tailored suit making him look even darker, and he headed straight for her father.

Her stomach clenched when he reached him. Jacob shooed away the man he was talking with and gave his full attention to the little sleaze of a man.

The two were in a heated discussion. Whatever Jesse was telling him didn’t make her father happy. Charity was talking, but Addison’s attention was focused solely on her father.

Another man, one older, thinner than her father walked up to the pair and joined their discussion. Jesse made introductions, hands were shaken, and the conversation continued. More heated stares between Jesse and her father, and then her father started to look around the crowded room. For her, he was looking for her.

“What’s your father doing talking to Detective Jamison?” Jackson asked with more than a little curiosity. Addison’s heart dropped into her stomach, her breath caught in her throat.

“Probably just getting a bribe.” Charity laughed, but kept her voice low. The three of them knew what sort of person Addison’s father was, and in any other circumstance Addison probably would have just rolled her eyes. But that name meant something. Something horrible for her.

“That’s Detective Jamison?” She gripped the wineglass even harder as she watched her father still scanning the room for her.

“Addy? You okay?” Charity asked, no more levity in her voice.

“I have to go.” She plunked her glass down on the table beside her and ran for the nearest exit. She heard Charity calling after her, heard Jackson’s voice follow her, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t. Not now. She had to go, to run. Get out of the city and right this moment. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Right now.

Because her future, the one she’d been counting on—the one she kept telling herself was only a day away—was standing in that damn museum with her father, telling him, and that creep Jesse, everything she’d already implied, and all about their meeting scheduled for the next day.

Just before she ran through the doorway toward a back exit, she looked over her shoulder. Her father’s brown eyes caught hers. Hatred. Anger. Betrayal lurked there. Her heart stopped, but her feet didn’t. Without another glance, she ran from the room, from the museum, and from her life.

Chapter Two


Sporting a headache and an angry stomach, Trevor Stringer walked into his office carrying a mug of freshly brewed coffee, black. Maybe a few sips would straighten out his body chemistry, strip away whatever alcohol lingered from the night before.

Just as he sat down at his desk and flipped on his computer, his commanding officer walked in, shutting the door behind him. That was not a good sign. Either he’d pissed off someone and didn’t remember doing it, or he was about to be given a shitty assignment.

Not that any assignment in missing persons was a vacation. Chasing after lost kids who more often than not ended up in a body bag than back home with their family had left him jaded. If Cowsky was closing his office door, the case was a shit show.

“Long night?” Cowsky asked with a hint of humor in his voice.

Taking a slow sip of the near burnt coffee, Trevor nodded. “Yeah. Those bachelor parties really get out of hand quick.” He quietly put his cup down on his desk and ran his hand over his chin. He hadn’t shaved. Hell, he had barely managed to button his damn shirt.

“No one said you needed to help close down the bar with those kids.” Cowsky had attended the party along with half the department to celebrate Winston’s last hurrah before settling down with his high-school sweetheart. But Cowsky had had the good sense to leave at a reasonable hour and get more than three hours’ sleep, and he hadn’t helped finish off the bottle of Jack Daniel’s either.

“You’re not in here to comment on my partying skills.” Trevor picked up his coffee again, taking a whiff and deciding against trying to stomach the brew. “What’s going on?”

His commander sighed. “Jacob St. Claire, you know him?”

“Heard of him.” Trevor leaned back in his chair, thankful that the lights weren’t on in the room, and only a bare trace of sunlight was peeking in through the blinds. “One of the zoning guys, or something. A friend of a friend had dealings with the zoning committee when trying to open a new club.”

“He’s the chair of that committee.” Cowsky nodded. “His daughter’s missing.”

Shitty assignment it is, Trevor decided. Chairman on any committee in the city would be a high-profile case. “How long? How old is she?” Trevor pulled his yellow pad in front of him and snagged a pen from the cup on his desk.

“She’s twenty-four. Been missing two months.” Cowsky walked around the desk to the window, and using his fingers to pry open the blinds, he looked out into the parking lot.

Trevor’s hand stilled over the paper. “Two months? Did he wait that long to report it or are you handing me a cold trail?” The case could be coming out of another house, and if they had fucked it up, he would be the next in line to clean up their fucking mess. He wasn’t in the mood for other people’s sloppiness.

“No.” Cowsky let go of the blinds, the plastic snapping back into place. His thick-rimmed glasses hid his eyes well enough that Trevor couldn’t really make out what he was thinking, but the way he stuffed his hands into his pockets and ran his tongue over his lower teeth said enough.

“No, what? No, he didn’t wait two months, no, there isn’t a cold trail? What?” Trevor had been on the force for nearly ten years, joined up the day after he turned eighteen. Two weeks after his mother died from gunshot wounds, which she received while working as a nurse in a hospital. And in those ten years he’d seen some crazy shit, horrible shit, things he didn’t think humans were capable of doing to each other. And a parent’s betrayal wasn’t one of the worst things. “What is it? Out with it.” He rubbed his temples. The stress of the conversation made his head throb harder.

“He knows where she is.” And there it was.

“How can she be missing if he knows where she is?”

Cowsky shook his head. “She’s hiding out in Eagle, Michigan, working at a club out there. She’s cut off all communication with him; he’s worried. He wants her to come home.”

“Why not just go get her then?” Trevor asked, already knowing he didn’t want to know the reason.

“It’s complicated.”

“Complicated? She’s twenty-four, you said? She’s out there working? She’s not missing, and she’s an adult. Why are we getting involved?”

“He doesn’t want press.” He shrugged.

“Then filing a missing person’s report probably wasn’t the way to go.” His gut twisted. Something was wrong. This wasn’t just a politician asking for a favor, there was a reason this girl wouldn’t come home.

“It’s unofficial. No file is being started, no report has been placed. He wants someone to go get her and bring her home. Someone who she doesn’t know, who won’t startle her into running off again.”

“Wait a minute.” Trevor stood up from his chair and confronted his boss. “Are you telling me that you want me to go fetch her and bring her home, in an unofficial capacity? What if she doesn’t want to come home? Surely, he has goons of his own. I’ve seen some shit in the papers about his suspected dealings.” Now that his mind was clearing, the name Jacob St. Claire rang more bells.

“Look. I don’t know. I’m doing what I’m told because the higher ups say to. I don’t really give a shit either. I just want this done and over, this shit makes my stomach turn. You know that.”

Trevor nodded. Cowsky was as strait-laced as they came. If he was bringing this bullshit to him, it wasn’t because he wanted to get involved. “So why me? If it’s a catch and release, send Thompson or that new guy—Jimbo or whatever.”

Cowsky laughed. “Jim Bob, and no. The club she’s working at, it’s not their scene.”

Now that got his attention.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked. Cowsky and he did not hang out with the same crowds after shift, but they’d known each other long enough for Cowsky to know a few personal details that the rest of their department didn’t, or at least had the good sense not to mention.

“She’s working at one of those S&M clubs—a professional bottom or some shit. St. Claire didn’t go into much more detail than that. Poor bastard, I thought he was gonna lose his lunch just saying the few things he did.”

Trevor had heard of the profession, but never looked into it. He didn’t need to. Paying someone to play wasn’t necessary for him any more than needing to pick up some street walker on the corner.

“They could always pick her up at her apartment, or hotel, or wherever the fuck she’s staying.” Just because he was familiar with the BDSM world didn’t make him the best cop for the job.

Cowsky’s reluctant smile pushed into a frown. The facade of this being an easygoing conversation broke.

“Look, that girl won’t come home on her own. I don’t know details, but I’ve heard enough about St. Claire to suspect why she ran off in the first place. You know as well as I do there are cops around here that answer to the green badge much more than the gold one hanging off their belt. I want this girl brought home safe.”

“If you think St. Claire’s a danger to her, why ask me to bring her back here at all?” Trevor asked. His patience thinned with each new detail.

“The boss says to do this for St. Claire. You go. You make sure she’s safe and sound, then bring her back. One day tops. If she gives you reason to believe it’s a danger coming back to Daddy, well, like you said. She’s an adult, and this is an unofficial job,” Cowsky said, shrugging his shoulders.

“And if my ass gets twisted up in some shit storm over all this?” Trevor asked, knowing it was a very strong possibility, because if that girl had good cause to stay away from Daddy, a shit storm would be right around the corner.

“Like you said, it’s a catch and release. Get up there, grab the girl, and bring her home. Then it’s over. You going, I know it’s a done deal. These other fucks… hell.” He combed a hand through his hair and looked straight at him. “She’s pretty, intelligent, and a spoiled brat from what I’m told. She probably took off after a family fight or something stupid. These other guys, they won’t know how to handle her. And since it’s not official, and she’s not underage…”

“Oh, I see. Technically, you’re asking me to kidnap her and bring her back to Daddy. And since she doesn’t want to be around Daddy, she’s not going to come easily.” It was all forming in his mind better now, and he suddenly wished he could crawl back inside the Jack Daniel’s bottle. He hated brats and spoiled ones were the worst kind. “So, why’d she run? Daddy wouldn’t pay her credit card bill or something?”

“I have no idea.” Cowsky spread his hands out to indicate he was telling the truth. “Like I said, she’s an adult. If it turns out that she’s not just some runaway brat, use your best judgement.”

Trevor tried to gauge his boss’s expression to decide which way he suspected it was going to go down. “You’re going back and forth here. Either she took off because she’s scared of her father and you’re sending me on some harebrained rescue mission, or she’s a spoiled brat who needs to be dragged back to Daddy. Which is it?”

“You know, you’re being a much bigger pain in the ass than I thought you’d be about this.” Cowsky’s eyebrows furrowed. “The girl may need help. If I send someone else and that is the case, I don’t know that the right thing will be done. With you, I have no doubts.”

“And if I do drag her back here and she cries kidnapping? This is all unofficial, what saves my ass from rotting in jail? Not to mention the little detail that she has every right to stay away from her father no matter what the reason,” Trevor pointed out.

Cowsky regarded him in heavy silence for a long moment.

“I’ll save your ass. If this goes badly, you have my backing. You have my word,” Cowsky said.

It was Trevor’s turn to inspect him. Cowsky’s jaw tightened, though the loose skin around his chin trembled a hair. Obviously, this crap left an unsavory taste in his mouth as much as it did Trevor. The stubble on his face seemed grayer than usual; the extra weight around his middle seemed to drag him down a little more, too.

“Just please, get it done. I’ll forward you the details I received. Take the day to rest up, then head out. Let’s get this done by Monday.” Without waiting for Trevor to agree, he left, softly closing the door behind him.

Regardless of how much the situation pissed him off, Trevor wouldn’t put any more argument into it. Cowsky was one of the few Trevor still trusted.

He hated brats, but he’d pick this one up, he’d bring her home to Daddy, and he’d move on to the next case. Maybe one with an actual purpose.


* * *


Her father wouldn’t give up. Addison pulled her long blonde hair back to the nape of her and began braiding it. After getting out of Chicago and finally settling in a small no-name town, she’d considered dying her hair and chopping it off. But she wouldn’t let her father take anything else away from her. She’d already lost enough because of him, and he never saw how much it all hurt her. Not after he’d threatened to call in a few favors with his friends on the board of education if she didn’t stick to teaching in Chicago, not after he’d frozen her trust fund in order to keep her complacent, not even after Steven was murdered. He’d left her life in shambles, and all with one myopic purpose. To keep her in Chicago.

She’d been a fool to believe he’d just let her leave town and start over somewhere else. The idea of her leaving Chicago was what had turned him so violently against Steven in the first place.

And there was the Stephanos family. It was bad enough her father had dealings with that scum, but to start actually pushing for her to marry one of them? Even for him, it seemed off.

She wouldn’t, couldn’t do that. No matter her situation, she would not give herself over to a family even more corrupt than her father. Men like Jesse and his father, Carmine, weren’t a special breed. They were the only type of men her father did business with. She’d seen them enough growing up to know what sort they were. Dangerous. But the day Steven was ripped from her, the moment she’d lost her fiancé to the greed of men like her father and the Stephanos family, was the day she would no longer play their game.

“There’s a guy outside asking about you.” Claire poked her head into Addison’s tiny office. If it could really be called that. The water closet turned manager office didn’t exactly feel like home.

“He asked for me by name?” Addison threw her braid back over her shoulder once the rubber band was in place. She hadn’t used her real name. She had grown up with Jacob St. Claire as her father; she knew better.

“No. Well, not really.” Claire tucked a strand of her bleached blonde hair behind her ear and slid the pocket door of the room all the way open to make way for her to step in. In a hushed voice, she continued. “He asked for Addison St. Claire, but he described you to a T.”

“Just tell him there’s no Addison here.” Addison pulled the braid in front of her again and removed the rubber band, pulling her fingers through the plaited hair and unleashing it once again.

“He has a picture of you,” Claire whispered.

In the two months Addison had been away from her father, she’d managed to make somewhat of a life for herself in the dinky-ass town. Going by the name of Maria Sanchez, which really didn’t fit her at all, she’d gotten a job as night supervisor at the Boom Boom Club, a fully nude strip club two miles off the main highway that catered to the kinkier lifestyles. It hadn’t even been hard. Mr. Garren, the owner of the club, hadn’t bothered to look at her application or check any of her references. She knew the lifestyle, and she didn’t ask questions about the back-room business, other than where he wanted the cash deposited. He’d hired her on the spot.

Claire was not only one of the strippers, but she also worked in the back rooms as a professional bottom. She took a solid spanking or flogging at least once a night.

The temptation had been there for Addison. A solid ass warming might have done her a world of good, but she wasn’t going to bend over for just any man, no matter how good the pay was.

“Claire, my name isn’t Addison. It’s Maria.” She leaned over her desk and raised her eyebrows. “Maria Sanchez. I don’t know who Addison is.”

“I could have sworn your father had some long-lost ancestor in Normandy. Sanchez sounds a bit more Hispanic, and your pale complexion suggests something a little further north,” a deep voice said from behind Claire.

Claire, to her credit, didn’t squeal in her moment of panic. Her eyes widened, and she slowly looked over her shoulder, but she didn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t be back here.” Addison stood from her desk and rounded it, making sure not to kick the leg as she did almost every other time she shimmied around the damn thing. She motioned for Claire to go, and she quickly scurried along, leaving Addison to deal with whatever asshole her father had probably sent. How her father even figured out where she was didn’t matter. She wasn’t going home. Not today, not ever.

“I’ll be where I need to be.” Arrogance filled his tone.

He stepped closer to the door, the light fixture directly over his head illuminating his face. A set jaw, chiseled features, and the darkest eyes she’d ever seen on a man were all directed at her. Addison wasn’t a short girl, and yet he still seemed to tower over her.

His hand moved up between them, showing her a picture he held in his hand. It was her, taken a month before she’d packed up what she needed and got out of Chicago. “You don’t hide all that well, Addison. Cutting your hair, dying it, shit, putting on a pair of fake glasses would have at least shown some effort.”

He was mocking her.

She snatched the photo from his hand, delighting in the surprise that flashed in his eyes, and tore the picture in half, then in half again. “No Addison here. Sorry to have wasted your time. Jimmy here will show you out.” She waved a hand and the bouncer, who Claire finally had the good sense to go get, walked down the hall toward them.

“Uh, Jimmy, was it?” He didn’t seem worried in the least. He turned to Jimmy and pulled something out of his back pocket. Opening up what looked like a wallet, he flashed it in the air, making Jimmy halt in his step. When she tried to take it from his hand like she had the picture, he caught her wrist in a tight grip.

“Jimmy, can you get him out of here?” Addison tried to wrench her wrist free, but his fingers were digging too hard into her for her to achieve anything other than hurting herself more.

“Jimmy! Get up here!” The radio on Jimmy’s hip hissed to life. “Now!” The panicked call for help concerned her, and she tried to step forward, to get out of the back and see what was going on in the club. The stranger wouldn’t have it; he clamped his hand around her arm and pulled her back, shoving her behind him.

A shot rang out, screaming started, and Addison shoved his back. “I have to see what’s going on!” She clawed at him when he pushed her against the wall with his back and retrieved a pistol from his side. “What are you doing?”

He looked at her over his shoulder, a dark, eerie gaze. “You stay here. Don’t move a muscle, princess.” He strode to where the heavy black curtains closed off the front of the club from the back offices, and with one finger pushed aside the curtain enough to peer out. She heard more screaming, another shot. Not one to stand idly by, she ran to the curtain and pulled it out of his hands to see.

Two large men—not in the muscular way like Mr. Stranger Danger, but fat instead—moved through the club. She could see Jimmy lying on the floor at the front, blood pouring from his chest. They were looking around. When the taller of the two caught her gaze, recognition hit her hard and she stumbled back.

“I said to stay put.” Stranger Danger yanked her back, the curtain falling back into place.

“Stephanos… cousins. Fuck.”

He didn’t bother to wait for an explanation; he grabbed her hand and yanked her to follow him toward the back entrance.

“Wait. I need to get my stuff.”

No answer from him except to pull harder on her arm. He kicked open the back door and pulled her through, shoving her into the back lot just as another shot rang out. Louder, and much closer. Debris from the concrete wall that was hit flew out the door, landing on her shoulders. When she looked back, all she saw were the angry fiery eyes of her stranger.

“Move. There.” He pointed to a car, a sedan, parked beside her own car.

“I don’t have my keys,” she muttered as she followed him.

“Not that car, mine.” He opened the passenger door of his car and glared at her. She didn’t move. Leaving with him could be dangerous. She didn’t know who he was, or who had sent him. If her father had sent him, then why the Stephanos cousins, too?

“Get in, princess. We don’t have time for you to have a fit. Get in the fucking car.” His voice was low, and his lips were pressed together so tightly she wondered if they’d bruise. When she still didn’t move, he grabbed her arm and maneuvered her until she was in the front seat. “You move and you’ll regret it,” he said firmly, but not with a raised voice.

The back door of the club opened just as he ran around to his own side of the car. She watched the Stephanos cousins huffing as they tried to hurry to the car, but her stranger had already turned it on and was reversing. She screeched when he almost hit one of the cousins, and then changed gears before tearing out of the lot.

Once they were clear of the lot and driving up the ramp of the highway, she turned back around in the seat and took a few gulping breaths.

“Seatbelt,” he said.

She turned to look at him. She’d just been pulled out of her work by some strange man, two killers had almost snatched her, and he was worried about her seatbelt?

“Now, princess.” His hardened tone combined with the heated look he shot at her got her moving. She knew nothing about him, except he had saved her from those Stephanos goons. For that reason, and only that reason, did she snap the belt over her chest.

“My name is Maria,” she huffed. “And my apartment is off the next exit.” She pointed to the sign signaling the upcoming ramp. The darkness of the evening filtered out most of the street lighting, but she could still make out the exit.

He laughed. “You aren’t going back to your apartment, sweetheart. Those guys are probably on their way there. If they found you at the club, they’ll find your address quick enough.”

“Then get me there before them so I can get my things.” She pointed again to the ramp.

“I said no.” He stated the fact as though that should end the conversation. Well, he obviously didn’t know who he’d just abducted.

“I don’t know who you are, or what the fuck you want with me, but I’m done playing this fucking game.” She unhooked her belt and lurched to his side of the car, yanking the wheel and trying to steer them toward the ramp.

He pried her hands off the wheel, shoved her back to her side of the car, and straightened out the car without missing a beat. With a ragged breath, she kicked the glovebox.

“Pull over!” she demanded, kicking it again.

“Settle down,” he barked at her. “I’m not pulling over, I’m not taking you back to your apartment, and I’m not letting you destroy my fucking car.”

“Let me out! You asshole! Who are you anyway! Why are you here?”

“Your dad sent me, princess. Time to stop having a hissy fit and go back home to Daddy.”

If he thought that statement would gain her cooperation, he lacked a few facts.