Authors: Skye Warren
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica
Anyway, I couldn’t imagine Hennessey going quietly. He might protest the accusations, but if the evidence were compelling enough…if he knew he might get caught, his true identity exposed…he’d fight to get out.
Of course he would.
It would be self-defense.
I could rationalize anything, even a shoot up of my workplace. Unconditional love. But at least I wasn’t lying anymore. Silently, hopelessly, I told myself the truth. I loved both sides of him, the fierce man and the broken monster.
Hennessey knew something was wrong the second he entered the room. He hadn’t been expecting me in this meeting with Brody. He’d thought we’d be meeting separately, I could tell by the surprise he masked quickly, but that wasn’t the real problem. Instead, he felt the tension in the air, scented it like an animal. I could see the options running through his brain as he took in Brody’s expression and mine. Could see him lean toward the door and calculate his odds of making it out of an FBI office alive. Not likely. If he ran, they’d know he was guilty. That wasn’t an FBI directive; it was just animal instinct. Run and the predators would come after you, mindless in their violence.
He sat down, greeting us both. “Brody. Holmes.”
I nodded, my throat too dry to speak.
I wanted to shout, but that would be the worst betrayal of all. I looked at the closed door and tried to imagine how many guards Brody would have stationed there. With orders to stop anyone fleeing.
We were dead. So dead. Except…when had I started including myself in this ill-fated escape plan? Was I seriously going to run with him, to align myself with a criminal? I remembered telling him about the scorpion and the frog. He was right when he said I wasn’t the scorpion. He was. As long as I stayed near him, he might hurt me. If the water didn’t drown us first.
Brody cleared his throat and picked up a file, pretending to read it. “I’m glad you’re both here. I’ve received some disturbing information, and I’d like to get it cleared up as soon as possible.” He looked up at Hennessey. “I’d like to clear your name.”
Hennessey raised his eyebrows, appearing both surprised and unafraid. It was a great act. He looked like an innocent man. “I wasn’t aware it was dirty,” Hennessey said lightly. “Mind filling me in with this information?”
If I hadn’t already known the truth, I would have been outraged on his behalf. I’d have believed this lie.
“Last night, a phone call was placed to a disposable cell phone with known ties to Carlos.” Brody studied him for a response.
He went unnaturally still. I could feel him remembering that moment in the hotel room, when the phone had rung.
Had he even checked it this morning? Or had he been too caught up in me? If I had distracted him, put him off guard, then this was my fault. Either way it was my fault, because only through my actions did they know where he’d been staying. It’s not like agents were investigated on a daily basis. Only if something went wrong…or if the agent already knew the address and made the connection. Damn Lance and his competence. Damn myself for using him.
Hennessey remained stubbornly silent, waiting for the other man to state the accusation plainly.
Brody cleared his throat. “In fact…this is quite unfortunate…but we have information that you are staying in the same vicinity where that call went. Within a half-mile radius.”
“I’m staying in a hotel.” His voice was dry. “There are quite a few people living within a half-mile of me.”
“That may be so, but the odds of them having ties to this case are low. You do. And the information you have, that you’ve had access to for some time. If you were to supply that to Carlos, it would be invaluable. I think we can all agree on that.”
“That’s hardly evidence of anything,” Hennessey said, but I could feel him stalling, thinking. Looking for a way out, but there was none. I’d had a few minutes longer, and I’d already seen that. No escape.
“Not proof,” Brody said, but it didn’t feel like a concession. Instead, he leaned forward, a shark sensing blood in the water. “But if we find the phone on your person. Or in your hotel room. That’s compelling. And if we dig a little farther…who knows what we’ll find?”
If they dug deep enough, they’d find a criminal mastermind had been working under their noses all this time. Siphoning off information, misdirecting them. Maybe even using them against his competitors. It would be humiliating for the Bureau, and God, they would come down so hard. There’d be no coming back from that. Nothing but the death penalty would do.
So if I protected Hennessey, if I saved him somehow, it would be saving his life. I could justify anything. I used to tell myself lies.
No one has ever hurt me.
You can be normal. Just pretend.
But Carlos had stripped away all that scar tissue, torn it off my body, leaving me bleeding and bared. Then Hennessey had put me back together, helped me heal. Two sides of the same man. And me in the middle.
“I brought the phone,” I blurted out.
Both men looked at me with surprise.
“Carlos mailed it to me. I think he wanted me to call him.” I tried to shrug. “I guess he thought he’d fucked with my mind enough where I’d be his informant.”
“Carlos gave you the phone,” Brody said flatly, his disbelief clear.
And well he shouldn’t believe me, since I was making it up. Lying for Carlos. Protecting Hennessey.
Deep breath. I had started this lie to save Hennessey. Now I had to follow it through. “Or maybe he just liked me. Maybe he wanted to fuck me again.”
Neither man knew what to do with that. The poor abused girl, they were thinking. They were right—and wrong at the same time. No wonder they were confused. I was confused.
“So if you want to arrest me for that,” I said. “Go ahead and do it. What do I care anymore?”
But they didn’t arrest me. They couldn’t, when I hadn’t done anything wrong. Not really. I was the girl who’d been broken, the one being stalked by a maniac. And I’d taken the phone to my partner for help. There was no way they could authorize a search warrant or arrest. Not for me. And not for Hennessey. I’d protected him. And the way he stared at me, with surprise, with fierce intensity, he knew. He knew what I’d done and why I’d done it. He knew I’d kept him safe.
This was the end of the story as I knew it. I’d lived this once before. I knew the proper ending. The bad guy goes to jail, and the good girl lives alone, in fear. In shame. But I’d gone off script this time. I’d protected him instead.
What do you remember?
The past couldn’t hold me any longer, and I had no idea what would happen next.
My street was dark, the heavy trees blocking most of the moonlight. The houses each had a different style, some Victorian, others a flat Californian layout. Mine was a miniature ranch house, sprawling on its little yard. The variation might have looked overwhelming or cheap, but each lawn was lush and green, each mailbox unique.
I knew every neighbor on the street, attended block parties, and waved to the kids at the bus stop in the mornings. It was a far cry from a cardboard-walled apartment in a shitty part of town, and that was exactly how I wanted it. It was a far cry, too, from the urban chaos of Montrose that surrounded Hennessey’s little motel.
And even farther from the docks, the criminal underworld where Carlos had reigned.
For all I knew, he might be planning to kill me. Even though we’d skated past the FBI today, they might continue investigating. Even with Carlos presumed dead. So he’d be safer if I wasn’t around to talk…unless he trusted me. And that would be the stupidest move of them all. I’d proven myself disloyal a long time ago.
A tricycle lay on its side on my sidewalk. Katy, the little girl from next door. Her house was dark now. She’d be tucked in bed, safe from the monsters who lurked outside. So what did that make me? The closing of my car door was loud in the stillness of the night.
I paused in the driveway, looking up. A royal blue sky peeked from between the shadowed pine boughs. No stars were visible. We were too close to the city for that. At least he wasn’t in jail. At least, wherever he was, he could also see the sky.
The key jammed in the lock, and with a rough twist, I got the door open. Half the things didn’t work in this old house, which I found charming. I’d always had an affinity for broken things.
My purse hit the wood flooring with a muffled thud. I kicked off my shoes beside it, but I didn’t have the energy to put them away properly. I didn’t have the energy to make dinner, either, but then my appetite had pretty well dried up. No, I had a singular goal, and that was my bed. I didn’t even bother with the light. I was halfway through the living room when I froze. The only thing I heard was the low drone of the air conditioner. The only thing I saw were the vague dark shapes of my furniture. But somehow I knew I wasn’t alone.
And the slightly warmer air told me who it was. Not unpleasant, really. Cozy. He didn’t like it cold, and he’d changed my house to suit him.
That voice. In the dark, tinged with a familiar accent, it was Carlos.
“Hennessey,” I said.
“You can call me Ian. I think we know each other well enough now that you can call me by my first name.” The accent had disappeared. Like weaving in and out of shadows, he flashed light and dark.
“That’s not really your name, though.”
“Oh, but it is. You heard Brody go on about my reputation. I’m a distinguished agent with tenure.”
“You were,” I said, my voice trembling only slightly. “They aren’t going to let you keep working there.”
“No?” He sounded amused. “I think they will. I think Brody doesn’t have any power that I don’t give him. I’m personal friends with men two levels higher. I have a direct line to senators on the oversight committee. So no, I don’t think Brody can do a fucking thing unless I approve of it.”
The air felt impossibly thin, like we’d climbed to the top of a mountain. Standing on crumbling rock and surrounded by wispy clouds. And falling. If he’d been the one in charge all this time, then he was responsible for me being on the case. He’d even allowed
to remain his partner, when he could have refused me. And he let the bust go early.
To kidnap me.
It felt strangely egotistical to even think of it. And yet, it was the solution that most made sense. He may not have known about me before he came to Houston, but once he met me, once he
me, he’d found a way to take me.
“Oh God,” I whispered. “Oh Jesus.” It was real. Until now, I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want to be sure. I could come up with excuses for how he’d had that phone. Maybe he really
been an informant for Carlos, which would have somehow been better. At least his role would have been over, with Carlos dead. And I could have convinced him to fly straight from then on…
And now, too. He could be sitting in my house, after breaking and entering, because he wanted to surprise me. Like a date, while showing off his stealthy maneuvers and lock-picking skills. Even though I knew all of that was wishful thinking, and that this was the only answer, the true answer, I’d kept a small flame of hope alive.
“Are you going to fight me?” he asked, so idly he might have been asking about the weather.
Will it rain tonight?
he would wonder. And yes. God, yes. It would storm.
“Would it matter if I fought?”
“It would matter, yes. Would it stop me? No.”
My muscles tensed for a flight not yet taken. Fear rooted me to the floor. Humiliation, hard and knotted in my stomach, kept me upright. Had he been
at me all that time? In the Bureau offices, and later, in the fucking warehouse? Knowing how scared I was. How helpless.
He made me helpless.
“How dare you,” I said, and my voice was shaking. Not with fear. With Rage. “You…you kidnapped me. You
“You wanted it.”
I had to laugh, harsh and metallic. It was too ridiculous. Too textbook. The excuse every asshole had ever given for hurting a woman. He’d hurt me. The awareness of it sank through me, wiping the brittle smile off my face. Not only then. Now. He hurt me now too.
“You don’t really believe that.” My voice was flat now.
Don’t bullshit me
, it said.
“Oh, but I do. You want the darkness. I can give you that. So don’t pretend with me. If you need to fight me, fine. If you need to cry, even better. But don’t pretend like I’m not exactly what you’ve been looking for.”
“Right,” I said sarcastically. “You’re the man of my dreams. Because you know me so well.”
“What did you think my business was about? What did you think I traded in—drugs? Weapons?” He laughed, low and cruel. “Flesh?” There was a pause while my mind shouted
yes, that, exactly.
“No. I trade information.”
He let that sink in before he continued.
“I knew everything about you before I ever laid eyes on you in that conference room. I knew you liked to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast and what your favorite antique store was. I knew about the foster brother who used to lock you in the closet. He paid for that by the way.”
My eyes widened. Did he mean that he had—?
“And I knew about your father. I knew that you had lived in darkness, but it was only when I met you that I realized you craved it too. I told Brody not to put you on the team. I warned you away too. But there you were anyway, offered up on a platter.”
“Why didn’t you come to me?” I asked, half shouting, half pleading. “If you just wanted to be with me, why not just take me normally—“
“Normal?” he scoffed. “You wouldn’t like me half as much if I were normal. I saw you, I wanted you, I took you. You want me to fucking apologize for that? No. This is how it works. I’m an animal, remember? A monster. You put a slab of fresh meat in front of me, this is what happens.”
“Is that all I am to you?” I whispered. “A piece of flesh? Of meat?”
,” he said, and the conviction in his voice didn’t allow it to be an insult. “You’re meat when I’ve been fucking starving my whole life, so fucking accept it. You’re mine.
I cried then, with fat teardrops down my cheeks. I cried because he was right about me, and how much I wanted him. And because he was wrong about himself. He wasn’t an animal. He was the most intelligent, complicated person I’d ever met. He may not be good or virtuous, but he was human, flawed and powerful.
And I cried because he needed me too. I was the only one who could see past all the shit he had done, all the shit that had been done to him. Even Mia, as sweet and selfless as she was, only looked at him and saw a man to obey. I saw a man to worship, and that terrified me more than anything he could have done to my body.
I bolted. My heart pounding a staccato beat, I ran for the front door. I made it onto the porch before he slammed into me from behind. We flew into the air. He turned on his side, catching most of our weight on his shoulder and grunting on impact. I rolled to get up, but he already had a firm grasp around my waist and all I succeeded in doing was rubbing my body against his. It was clear almost immediately, from the tension in his body and the hard length against my thigh, that he was toying with me. A cat releasing his prey only to catch her again.
“Let me go,” I gasped. “I’ll scream.”
“Do it.” He was out of breath too, though I suspected for different reasons. Or maybe they were the same, after all. If I were honest, I could admit I wasn’t fighting very hard. I wanted to
him. I just didn’t want to get away.
“Asshole,” I hissed.
He laughed unsteadily. “Rookie.”
I moved to knee his groin—already erect, it would have really hurt—but he blocked me in time and pinned me to the porch. “Ah ah, be careful with that. If you break your toys, you don’t get to play with them.”
That was the problem, wasn’t it? I liked my toys better broken.
It made me mad how much he knew me. He’d gotten under my skin before I’d even realized who he was. Then I did try to kick him,
, but he already had the upper hand. All I succeeded in doing was flailing against the wooden boards and panting beneath him.
“So angry. What a pretty sight.” He ran his thumb over my lips, which were pouting, I admit. It was childish, and I just barely held back from biting him. He would enjoy that too much. I glared up at him, mutinous, trembling inside.
His lids lowered. “Are you going to be good for me?”
“Never,” I said, but with my lips parted around the word, he slipped his thumb inside. The invasion felt strange and complete, like something I should fight, like something I couldn’t hope to fend off. I tasted salt and a sort of metallic flatness, like earth. My tongue tried to push him out, and only caressed him instead, licked him. His lower body surged against mine, reacting to the touch of my tongue. It was heady, that power, finally something I could control beyond kicking and screaming. Beyond throwing a temper tantrum. No longer child-like. A woman.
I closed my lips around his thumb and sucked, swirling my tongue around the tip and across the pad.
He groaned. “Your mouth feels so good. I can’t wait to fill it with my cock.”
My breath caught. “Dirty talk?” I managed. “That’s new.”
“Yes, well, I’m full of surprises.”
I laughed, breathless. That was the understatement of the year.
He sat back and pulled me up. “Let’s go inside. I didn’t make it this far to get arrested for public indecency.”
There it was again, a sly omission to his true identity. I wondered if he’d ever spell it out for me, if he could trust someone that much. A conversation could be recorded or at least recounted for a court of law. This innuendo, not so much.
It felt surreal to know that one of the FBI’s Most Wanted was in my house. I tried to tell myself this was serious, that it was bad. But if he wanted to hurt me, he could have already done it. He might still do it. There wasn’t much I could do to stop it from happening, if it was going to, so there was no use worrying about it.
That might have been a strange reaction. Maybe normal people were supposed to get scared when their abuser stalked and attacked them. But this was me, with my past, and I could only feel relief. Like falling off a cliff and laughing on the way down. Crazy from the perspective of those solid and safe on the ground. But in the air, with the wind in my face, the sheer momentousness transformed loneliness into respite, fear into joy.
He led me to my bedroom, walking in front of me instead of carrying me—both tender and commanding all at once. Then I had stirred only to find him gone. Here, now, I found the same thing. He hadn’t followed me inside.
I looked back and realized Ian stood in the doorway.
“Invite me in.”
“What, are you a vampire?”
He laughed darkly. “Why, afraid I’ll take your blood?”
The words sent a shiver down my spine. He’d drawn blood when he’d taken me. But he’d stopped shortly after that. He’d hurt me, and he’d been careful with me. He’d kidnapped me and cared for me. Our moments together were strung together with extremes, skating the edges before coming to rest in the middle.
“Come here,” I asked softly.
And he did, taking me in his arms and pushing me back on the bed. We fell together, landing in a sensual tangle of limbs and light. The windows had old lacy coverings that hung open. Neither of us made a move to push them closed. Neither of us turned on the light. I wanted to see him just like this, in silvery shadows. Without the fluorescent office lighting, without the blindfold. His body was made of reflection like this, the line of his hip and the curve of his bicep. Sleek muscles over bone, coarse skin sprinkled with hair. A beautiful male body that curved around me and pressed against me.