Authors: Layla Nash
© 2015 by Layla Nash
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
by Resplendent Media
enedict hated getting
up early on his day off. He'd been looking forward to a lazy Friday of sweatpants, grilled cheese sandwiches, and beer. Until Atticus called. From jail.
He gritted his teeth as he strode into the reception area. It would take a couple of hours to sort this all out, though Benedict didn't have his hopes up. Atticus hadn't been particularly forthcoming about what led to his arrest, and the sullen "I don't knows" felt more like teenage angst than what a goddamn man would own up to.
Benedict knew the clerks and bailiffs at the jail and the courthouse, and smiled and joked about being there on unofficial official business as the morning ticked away. All while wanting to punch Atticus in the face the moment he saw him. The feeling intensified when he paid out the ten thousand dollar bond to the clerk, gritting his teeth as he imagined all the ways to make Atticus pay it back. Son of a bitch.
The deputies brought Atticus out and for a moment Benedict couldn't speak -- his little brother looked like hell warmed over, even with their supernatural healing ability. Bruises and lumps covered his face and at least two massive cuts had butterfly bandages holding them together. Benedict raised his eyebrows as he pointed Atticus into the corner. "Over there. Sit."
Atticus scrubbed a hand over his short hair, holding his bag of belongings from the property locker. "Can't we do this at home? I feel like shit."
"You look worse, and we're doing this here so I can decide what to tell Logan." Benedict scanned the handful of other people waiting in the reception area; all human, nothing to worry about. He loomed over Atticus as the younger man flopped into a flimsy plastic chair that creaked dangerously under his weight. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"There was a fight, the cops showed up, I tried to shift and get away but ended up naked in an alley. They used their imaginations. Nothing I could do about it."
"Why the fuck were you naked in an alley?" Benedict heard a snort behind him and lowered his voice, fury swelling his shoulders as the lion wanted to burst forth and teach his brother a lesson.
Atticus shrugged, not meeting his gaze but staring past Benedict at the door. A muscle jumped in his jaw, just under a thick white scar from his ear to his throat. "It just happened."
Benedict massaged his temples and turned away for a moment so he wouldn't grab the kid by the throat and throw him across the room.
It just happened
. It always just happened around Atticus. It was the fourth time in as many months that he'd been arrested for fighting, or public nudity, or any number of minor crimes. Enough that Logan was starting to get pissed.
Benedict took a deep breath and faced his brother. "You have got to get this under control. I don't know what the fuck you're doing, Atticus, but clean it up. Got me?"
"I get it." The sullenness faded to fatigue, and for a moment Benedict saw his brother exhausted, beaten. Broken. Atticus gingerly put his head in his hands. "I don't know if I can stop."
"We'll figure it out." Benedict didn't fully understand what the problem was, just that his brother needed help. Something was seriously wrong, and if --
He turned as slow-moving chaos burst into the reception area, two patrol cops wrestling with a kid and getting a little too rough. Benedict frowned, gesturing at his brother to get up and handing him the keys. "Let's get you some food and --"
"I'm innocent," the kid yowled, and the hair stood up on Benedict's arms. His vision narrowed, focused on the kid, and he saw her face. Not a kid, a young woman. Being manhandled far too roughly, unprofessionally, by two cops who enjoyed it a bit too much. She looked ill, weak, and kept her eyes screwed shut as she struggled. "Let me go, you're not supposed to --"
"Shut the fuck up," one of the cops said, grabbing a fistful of her hair and knocking the girl over one of those damn plastic chairs.
Atticus bristled, growled a little, and Benedict shoved him at the door. "I'll handle it, you don't need to get arrested again.
And Benedict strode forward. "Hey! Get your hands off my client before I file excessive force and brutality complaints."
The cops scowled but eased up; one held the girl's upper arm as the other handed the arrest paperwork to booking. One muttered, "Your client? She must account for half your salary."
"Unhand my client." Fear rolled off the girl in waves and riled up his lion, along with the cruelty emanating from the cops. Benedict had a healthy respect for the police but wouldn't tolerate the occasional bad seeds that turned up in their line of work. He looked past the cops at the booking agent and tilted his head at a few chairs in a more private corner. "Do you mind if I speak with my client briefly? We'll be filing the bail agreement shortly."
The clerk smiled, clicking away at the computer. "Of course, Benedict. We'll have her processed lickety-split."
"Good." He caught the girl's elbow and pulled her away from the handsy cop, scowling at the dick as they moved away. In the corner, Benedict put the girl in one of the chairs and placed himself between her and the cops, so they couldn't see her and she couldn't see them. He kept his voice low enough they wouldn't overhear. "What's your name?"
Her voice was low and throaty, and she kept her eyes on the floor. A frisson of interest, of curiosity, ran through him. The tone in her voice, the smell of her skin, and the crackle in the air around her meant non-human. Definitely something supernatural, but she didn't smell like a lion or a wolf or any shifter he knew. He took a deep breath near her and the girl went still, sliding a glance at him. Ice blue eyes, almost silver, slid across his face and then back to the floor. They hit him like a punch in the gut, and he forgot, for a moment, where he was.
He shook himself back to reality. Time was limited and he had to get her away from the jail before she ended up booked all weekend. "I'm Benedict. I'll be your lawyer for the time being, at least until we can get you out of here."
"Great." She picked at a loose thread on her jeans, hands nervous despite the handcuffs restraining her.
"What did they pick you up for?"
She made an odd noise in her throat, almost a laugh, but shrugged instead. "They didn't really say."
Irritated, Benedict spun on his heel and confronted the cops. "What are the charges against my client?"
The taller cop, unimpressed, raised his eyebrows and handed over a copy of the arrest sheet. "Oh, you know. Small potatoes. Illegal betting, book making, money laundering, fraudulent wire transfers, and some racketeering."
"Racketeering?" Benedict took the paper but didn't look away from the cop. "Are you fucking kidding me? Does she look capable of racketeering?" And he flung his arm back at the girl, who blinked and looked around as if confused why she was even at the jail.
The short cop snorted, an ugly sound. "Look, friend, you don't know your client very well. We've arrested her at least ten times this year alone. Theft, transporting stolen goods, forgery, obstructing an official investigation, breaking and entering... You're not getting out of this shit," and he pointed at Eloise behind Benedict. "These are federal charges, sweetheart, so you best pay your lawyer however you can."
And the sneer on his face left little doubt how he thought Eloise paid him. Benedict's blood ran cold with rage and his lion roared in the back of his head, ready to pounce. But he kept his face expressionless as he looked at the patrol cops. "If you have any issues, address them to me. My client will not be speaking with you further."
He looked at the girl and the curtain of dark hair hiding her expression. He dropped his voice again as the cops headed for the door. "Forgery? Really?"
A hint of a smile, quickly hidden. "No idea what they're talking about."
Benedict snorted, about to go back to the clerk to resolve the bail, then leaned down to try to see her face. "Who are your people?"
She went very still. Her gaze slowly lifted to his face and Benedict rocked back on his heels; definitely supernatural. Had to be. Her eyes were gray-silver with hints of blue, flecks of lightning through the irises. Enthralling. Devastating.
She cleared her throat. "I'm Eloise. That's it."
A mystery. His lion perked up. He grinned, patted her shoulder. "What are you doing for lunch?"
a lot of noise as the cops dragged me into booking, but in reality, I looked forward to a quiet weekend at the jail. No one would bother me, meals came on time and were generally edible, and I could finally get some sleep. Besides, one of my runners was in jail and I needed to get her a message.
And then some knight in shining armor showed up, claiming to be my lawyer, and yelled at the cops when they got a little handsy. I knew better than to argue, but I didn't dare look at him too directly. He was good-looking enough my mojo would decide for itself to ensnare him, and I didn't need that complication. Already I was late for my meeting with Val, and she didn't like being ignored. The matriarch of the hyena shifters didn't get to the head of the pack by being a nice or patient person.
I chewed the inside of my cheek and concentrated on the location of the knight's highly-polished, ridiculously expensive leather shoes. A man with money. So definitely not a public defender. His watch said the same thing as he paused in front of me, his voice deeper than I expected. "What are you doing for lunch?"
Startled, I looked at him. "What?"
His eyes, a swirl of brown and gold, caught me. Held me captive, and warmth surged through my chest. Holy shit. He was too handsome for his own good, clean shaven with striking cheekbones and a strong jaw that implied stubbornness. And trouble. Way too much trouble, by the way his light brown hair fell across his forehead. He was used to getting his way. But he held out a hand. "I can hear your stomach growling, Ms. Eloise. Let's get a sandwich."
Against my better judgment -- but more because those damn cops still loitered nearby and would no doubt follow me down the street to pin some other bogus crimes on me -- I got up and shoved my hands in my pockets. "Sure."
"Great." His hand slid around my elbow as he led the way out of booking, while he waved and called his thanks to the clerk behind the counter. But the look he gave the cop was straight out death. When we were outside and he started leisurely toward an unknown destination, he released my arm and took his own casual posture. "My name is Benedict, by the way."
"Great," I said, echoing him. Men liked that, usually. Pretend like their words were more powerful than my own. It became habit. I rubbed my nose and glanced over my shoulder, where that goddamn cop followed, half a block back. Looking suspicious as hell. I scanned the street for his partner, knowing those two in particular never worked alone. "Thanks for the bail and everything, it's totally a bum rap and --"
"Don't worry about it." This Benedict character had an easy smile, glancing at me as he paused next to a restaurant and opened the door. "I'm glad I could help. Please," he said, and gestured inside.
It was not, in any sense of the word, a bistro. Maybe if bistro really meant over-priced, hoity-toity, totally unaffordable and uncomfortable with cloth table cloths, waiters that put the napkin in your lap for you, and too many utensils to know when to use what. I balked in the doorway. "You can't be serious."
"You don't like this place?" His eyebrows arched, then he looked down the street. "There's a couple --"
"It's..." I took a deep breath then shrugged. Why the fuck not. "Sure. I normally try not to spend more than a hundred bucks on lunch, but what the hell."
His head tilted, a half-smile making him more handsome. "There's a taco truck across the street, but their wine selection is terrible."
I laughed as I looked at him. I didn't mean to do either, but he surprised me. Imagine, a lawyer with a sense of humor. His teeth flashed white and a little pointy as he ushered me into the restaurant, his hand low on my back. Shivers raced through me and I concentrated on the floor. Keep it together, Eloise. Keep it together.
Benedict greeted the suited waiter dude at the front like they were old friends, and instead of waiting like a couple of other schmucks in the lobby, he showed us to a small table near the window immediately. Benedict pulled out a chair for me, though I fidgeted and wanted to take the other chair -- it had a good view of the door and the kitchen, and its back to a wall. But he obviously wanted the superior ground, so I caved and sat, feeling twitchy with my back to the door and any threat that might come sauntering in. Like those fucking cops. Maybe they worked for Val.
I chewed my lip as I checked my phone; no missed calls just yet, but that didn't mean anything. I wasn't late yet.
Benedict said something to a waiter who approached while I was busy looking over my shoulder, and before I could decipher what he ordered, the waiter disappeared. Benedict smiled, disarmingly boyish. "So, Eloise. What do you do for a living?"
And again he surprised me into laughing. I chewed my lip but refused to look at him, not wanting him to see my eyes. "What do you think?"
Long, thin fingers drummed on the pristine tablecloth. "Kindergarten teacher?"
I smiled, looked away. A joker. "Try again."
"Sunday school teacher?"
"Not even close."
He made a thoughtful noise, eyes sparkling when I dared glance at him. "A judge, then. Clearly."
I snorted, about to fire back about the legal profession when the waiter returned with a bottle of wine. Benedict studied the label, nodded, and went through a whole ritual with smelling the cork, swirling and tasting the wine, then finally giving permission to the waiter to pour for me. And he did it without a hint of pretension. Until he caught sight me of staring at him, and laughed. "What?"
"I've never seen anyone do that in real life," I said, shifting in the chair. The sooner this ended, the sooner I could get some place to wash the sludge from the cop car off me and get some rest before I faced Val and her minions. I'd already missed the meeting, and Val wouldn't be happy with my absence or the failed ransom drop.
"I'm glad you're impressed." He smiled, though a puzzled frown replaced it after a few moments. "So about those charges they threw at you. Any truth to them?"
"Who, me?" I affected a wide-eyed innocent look, gasping at the sheer audacity of him implying anyone like me could possibly be engaged in any such nefarious activities. "That's the most ludicrous --"
He laughed, holding up his hands to cut me off. "Okay, okay. Forgery, huh?" He made a thoughtful noise, then snorted. "I've never had a forger before. This should be interesting." He pulled a card from inside his suit coat and handed it to me. "I'm not a criminal attorney by day, but I'll offer pro bono defense services, if you need them."
"Thought all lawyers were criminals," I said under my breath, but put the card in my pocket for later. Just in case. "But thanks."
The waiter returned to list the specials, and when I looked at Benedict with a hint of panic, he winked and said, "Hope you don't mind if I order for both of us?" and then proceeded to do so. After the waiter departed, he picked up his glass of wine and leaned back. "Hope you like snails."
"Damn, I just had that yesterday."
I liked him. Medusa strike me down, I liked him. He was funny and charming and surprisingly unpretentious about himself and the restaurant and everything. And he made me laugh.
He carried the conversation as the waiter brought out round after round of food -- soup and salad and bread and some weird appetizer and then an artsy construction of chicken and vegetables that tasted good even if I couldn't have named any of the ingredients other than chicken. And part of me mourned that this had to be a one-time thing, despite the business card burning a hole in my pocket. I wouldn't call him. He might have the paperwork from the jail, but the only truthful information on it was my first name. I could disappear and Val would take care of those particular charges. She better. She owed me.
Benedict's easy smile coaxed another laugh from me, and maybe even a blush. I passed a hand over my eyes, not daring look at him too closely. He spoke into his wine glass, though his blue eyes twinkled. "You should smile more, Eloise. You light up when you smile."
And that time I definitely blushed. Turned to smile out the window instead, and went still as I caught sight of one of Val's enforcers, prowling around. Maybe looking for me. I swallowed hard, turning back to ask him for a ride or a hand or a new life, maybe.
But he held up his ringing phone, "Excuse me for a moment, I need to take this," and headed toward the quieter entry area.
I leaned in my chair and lifted the wallet from his back pocket, pretending to search my bag for something when he glanced back. I almost felt bad. He strode off, talking and gesturing widely as whoever on the other side of that call pissed him off. That was my cue. The wallet was fine leather, maybe sharkskin or ostrich skin or something really creepy, and fat with cash and cards. I dropped it in my bag and patted my mouth with the napkin before easing up from my chair. When his back was turned, I headed for the ladies' room. Another turn by the kitchen and a back door via the employee break room opened up ahead of me, and I slid out into a back alley that stank of garbage. There was always a back alley.
I checked my watch as I jogged to the main street and tried to blend into the crowds going about their afternoon business. The money drop didn't go well and Val would be looking for a scapegoat. I called Lacey but she didn't pick up, and I frowned. We'd had a deal -- Lacey and her boyfriend would pick up the money for a fresh start somewhere else, and then Lacey would call her mother before Val really flipped her shit. Twelve hours later, and nothing. No money, no call, no Lacey. My stomach twisted and I glanced over my shoulder.
I reeked of cop car and jail and that lawyer, and no way could I go home. I headed for one of the shadier parts of the city and silenced my phone. There were a few hiding places yet that Val didn't know about. Or so I hoped.