Mastered, p.13
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       Mastered, p.13
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         Part #1 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks

  was growing more anxious by the minute.

  What on earth in Drake’s note could cause her this much upset? It was straightforward. Typical Drake. He didn’t see anything that should have caused Evangeline to react with such panic.

  “What does he mean by dressy and sexy?” she asked, her voice rising with each word. “I’m not sexy and I have no idea what his definition of dressy is because believe me, my definition and his are miles apart. And as I’m obviously not sexy, how the hell would I know how to dress the part?”

  Jax’s mouth fell open. Not sexy? Was she crazy?

  “I don’t want to embarrass him,” Evangeline whispered, tears filling her eyes.

  It was all he could do not to pull her into his arms and hug her. For God’s sake. He was contemplating hugging someone? He should have known he was being set up when it was suggested that he be the one to collect Evangeline. Since she needed to meet all of Drake’s men, Maddox had smugly pointed out.

  Jax’s lips made a firm line, and then he reached out and took Evangeline’s hand, tugging her behind him as he headed toward the closet. He was no fashionista, but he sure as hell knew what looked good on a woman. Especially a woman like Evangeline. Hell, she’d look good in a sackcloth. What the hell was wrong with Drake that his woman didn’t think she was sexy? Because if Evangeline belonged to Jax, not a single day would go by that she wouldn’t know exactly how desirable she was.

  “You, stand there,” he directed, planting Evangeline in the middle of the huge walk-in closet. “Now, what you have on now is perfect for casual. You totally rock that look. I expect Drake will be in a foul mood whenever another man has to come into his office.”

  She looked at him like she had no clue what he was talking about.

  Jax nearly shook his head. Hell, the others hadn’t been fucking with him about Drake’s woman. They’d been telling him the honest truth.

  “Dressy and sexy for a night at the club means something a little more glittery, fun, even daring.” Though he wondered if he should have included that last part. It might get his ass kicked by Drake if his woman showed up in something too revealing and Jax and the others had to spend the entire evening beating other men’s asses for ogling Evangeline’s sweet ass.

  “You mean something like this?” she asked softly, reaching toward one of the hangers.

  Her fingers glided over the silver-and-white silk material, and he could see the longing in her eyes. At that moment, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was the wrong thing for her to wear. There was no way he was going to tell her no.

  “Absolutely,” he said with a firm nod. “You got shoes to go with that or do we need to make a stop and pick up a pair? Drake will understand.”

  Her eyes widened in alarm. “Oh no. I have shoes. Besides, I’m already late and as everyone is constantly reminding me, Drake doesn’t like to be kept waiting so he’s probably already angry.”

  Jax frowned. “Now wait a minute, sugar. It’s true that Drake is an impatient son of a bitch and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting, but he will not be angry with you and he damn sure won’t hurt you. Besides, I’ll simply tell him I got held up and was late getting here to pick you up.”

  She smiled and for a moment he forgot to breathe. Holy hell, but this woman was death on men and didn’t even have a fucking clue.

  “That’s sweet of you, Jax, but I would never allow you to take the blame for me oversleeping and then having a meltdown because I’m too gauche to know what I’m supposed to wear or how to act. If Drake is going to get mad at anyone, it will be me and not anyone else.”

  Her jaw was set in a stubborn line that told him she meant business.

  “I have the shoes over here,” she said, bending over and rummaging through several boxes before producing a pair of iridescent high heels that would look killer on her already gorgeous legs.

  Then she frowned. “I should probably bring makeup and toiletries. Do we have time for me to pack a quick bag?”

  “Sugar, you take all the time you need. I’ll just wait in the living room.”

  He was almost to the door when she called out to him.

  “Oh! Jax, I almost forgot. Can you do something for me, please?”

  Hell, she could ask him for damn near anything and he’d do it or die trying.

  “Sure thing. Just name it.”

  “There’s a box of cupcakes on the bar in the kitchen. Can you get it for me? I was going to just keep them here for Drake, but since we’re going to the club and there are plenty to go around, I thought I’d bring them for the guys.”

  He was at a momentary loss of words. Cupcakes? She was bringing the guys at Impulse cupcakes? Drake might never live this one down, so it was with glee that he cheerfully agreed to collect the box and wait for her in the kitchen.

  Evangeline carefully put the dress into one of Drake’s garment holders, grabbed an overnight bag and stuffed the shoes and all her toiletries and makeup inside and then hurried into the kitchen to see Jax stuffing what was left of a cupcake into his mouth.

  When he heard her, he looked up, ignoring her accusing look and the hand on her hip. “Holy shit, these are fucking awesome. Where did you buy them?”

  She fidgeted uncomfortably. “I made them.”

  His eyes bugged out. “You made them?”

  She ducked her head but nodded. “I like to cook. And bake.”

  “Oh my God, I’m in love,” he groaned. “Any chance you can forget that you were bringing the box for all the guys and let me take it home with me?”

  She grinned. “No. But I’ll pretend you didn’t already have one so you can have another when we get to the club.”

  “Good. I’m starving. Haven’t had a chance to eat yet.”

  Evangeline frowned and put her stuff down on the counter and then shoved a startled Jax around to the other side of the bar and made him sit.

  “What are you doing?” he asked, clearly baffled.

  “Feeding you. I have leftovers from the dinner I made Drake last night. It won’t take but a few minutes to warm up and as you said, we’re already late, so what’s a few more minutes, right? Traffic was so terrible.”

  Jax laughed. “I like you already.”

  “It won’t be as good as it was last night,” she said in an apologetic tone. “But it won’t be bad. Promise.”

  “You actually cooked dinner for Drake?”

  “Yeah. I thought I screwed up and pissed him off. He had placed an order with a delivery service for seven, but I misunderstood when he said he’d be home at six and that we were eating in. I assumed he wanted me to cook, so it was kind of awkward. Until he tasted my cooking,” she added with a grin.

  A few minutes later, she set a plate of leftover fish and the sides, minus a baked potato, in front of Jax and blinked as he literally inhaled it.

  “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Jax muttered. “You’re a goddess. If that was supposed to be not as good as last night, then it’s a wonder Drake survived and is alive and working today. Because that was heaven in my mouth. Is there anything you can’t do? A beautiful, sweet, compassionate woman and she can cook? Why do I never find them first,” he said mournfully.

  Evangeline flushed with pleasure over the obvious sincere compliment, but then she swiftly took the plate and set it in the sink.

  “Okay, we better get going or Drake is going to strangle both of us,” she said, only half joking.

  On cue, Jax’s phone rang and he groaned. “That’s the boss wondering where the hell his lady is.”

  “Yeah, you need to tell him about the horrible traffic jam we’re in,” she said with a perfectly straight face.

  Jax laughed and then said the strangest thing. “Oh man, Drake is going to supply the guys with the most amusement we’ve encountered in a damn long time.”

  Drake stifled the urge to look at his watch again, knowing that Silas and Hatcher would pick up on the fact that he wasn’t focused on what he should be focused on, which was the current han
dling of an issue that needed to be acted upon quickly. And Maddox, damn the man’s hide, who perpetually lurked in the shadows, a mere raised voice away, would know exactly where Drake’s mind was and it wasn’t on one Eddie Ryker. For that matter, Justice and Thane were currently sitting on Drake’s sofa for reasons unknown to Drake, leaning back as if they had nothing better to do than be on permanent break. He’d address their purpose for being here as soon as he dealt with the most pressing issue.

  “So what do you want done, Drake?” Silas asked in his quiet, unruffled tone.

  Silas was an enigma, one that Drake would never admit to not having ever figured out. He knew enough about the man he considered one of his most trusted and valued partners to not worry that his loyalty would ever lie elsewhere, and he knew, only from what he’d been able to dig up as public record, that Silas’s childhood had been the worst kind of hell, but he didn’t know much else.

  If it were anyone but Silas, that wouldn’t sit well with Drake at all. He didn’t hire men who wore shadows like others wore clothing. But in Silas he saw a kindred soul, and he also saw a man who placed great value on a man’s word, particularly his own. In all the years they’d worked together, he’d never known Silas to break his word once given. Regardless of circumstance. And Drake would know otherwise. He made it his business to know everything about the men he trusted. Except, he thought ruefully, he’d made an exception with Silas since no one knew anything about the man other than what he chose for them to know.

  Drake glanced at Hatcher, whose expression was bland and unruffled, though his fists were clenched at his sides, a sure sign of his irritation. Drake frowned at the tell. Men who broadcast their mood, thoughts or intentions were the ones most likely to get themselves killed.

  “You will handle this, Silas,” Drake said, making a sudden reverse decision when before he’d fully intended to give the assignment to Hatcher. Though he had implicit trust in Silas when it came to taking care of problems that arose, this task was beneath his abilities. Any of his men could do what needed to be done, and though he suffered no conscience over using any of the men he partnered with and had made very wealthy men, he had to admit that every once in a while he grew concerned with the considerable burden that Silas, for the most part, bore alone as Drake’s clean-up-and-take-out-the-trash man. Silas was too valuable, too integral to Drake’s many less-than-aboveboard assignments.

  If Silas knew that it had even crossed Drake’s mind to shield his muscleman, it would be a betrayal; Silas placed much emphasis on loyalty and carrying out any task Drake put to him, regardless of how dirty his hands got in the process. But then the entire reason Drake chose Silas for that particular role was that he could simply turn it off, do the job impersonally and without emotion or suffering a fit of conscience, two things Drake demanded of all his men, but especially Silas.

  Silas wouldn’t question Drake’s decision or his motives, but if he had, he would have simply been honest about the fact that of all his men, Hatcher had been with him the shortest period of time, which meant he still had to prove his mettle not only with Drake but with his partners and brothers.

  He shot Hatcher another quick glance, satisfied that at least he showed no outward reaction to Drake’s decision. But then he could hardly blame the man for his anger toward Eddie when Drake wanted nothing more than to hunt the little bastard down and kill him himself.

  But this wasn’t about Eddie, directly. Eddie had already received a message very loud and clear, courtesy of Silas, Jax and Justice, to give Evangeline Hawthorn a wide berth in the future. One he was still no doubt recovering from. Except he’d shown up in Steven Cavendar’s nightclub the night before. And not only had he been allowed entrance, but he’d also availed himself of his VIP status and all the perks that accompanied VIP treatment.

  Drake had done his homework on Eddie and had only grown more disgusted, if such a thing were possible. He didn’t have money, or a job for that matter, or the ambition to do anything more than to live off his parents’ largesse and toss around money without a second thought in his bid to impress women and men alike. He wanted something he had no hope of ever receiving. Respect. He was a parasitic leech and there was no doubt in Eddie’s mind that once he’d set his sights on Evangeline, it was a fait accompli and she’d fall into his lap like a ripe plum just ready to be bitten into.

  He’d certainly picked the wrong woman when he chose Evangeline and was barking up the wrong tree entirely. Evangeline wanted, needed, craved a forceful, dominant man, and he doubted she’d even realized it yet. Eddie, even if he had been satisfactory in bed, would have failed her on every other level that it was possible to fail a woman. He was weak, spineless and unapologetic about his lifestyle and what his parents’ fortune gave him by proxy. As an only child, he’d been shamelessly spoiled, and he knew nothing about the real world or where Drake and his men and Evangeline had come from, what they had made themselves into. He was a whiny petulant prick who expected nothing more than to crook his finger at a woman and have her clinging to him like a lifeline.

  Until Evangeline. And she had not only stung his pride by making him put on all his charm to seduce her, but she’d made a fool of him and worse, he knew it, though he’d never admit to such a thing. He’d been on a mission to take Evangeline’s virginity and to toss her the day after, never to be thought of again.

  “Just how big a lesson did you teach our good friend Eddie?” Drake asked Silas, in a swift shift in thought. “Because I’m thinking if he was out partying at Cavendar’s all night, he didn’t get half of what he deserved.”

  His statement ended in a snarl that suddenly had Maddox materializing in the far corner of the room where the nearly hidden doorway stood. He watched the goings-on through narrowed eyes as if deciding whether he needed to intervene.

  “I’m surprised he was walking,” Silas said in his characteristic detached, unemotional tone.

  Drake scowled. “Are you saying he has magical healing powers, then?”

  His sarcasm lay heavy over the now-quiet room.

  Hatcher merely shrugged. “A man will do a lot when his pride is involved. After the first several doors were shut in his face, he probably got desperate. And we all know Cavendar is a greedy whore who’d sell his mother for the right price. How Eddie got in and whether he was ambulatory wouldn’t be of consequence to him. Only that he was seen and not shunned. And just as Cavendar can be bought, I doubt the women who Eddie usually keeps company with give a fuck that he looks like he was hit by a semitruck just as long as he keeps them happy. And gives them carte blanche with his parents’ money.”

  “Which is precisely why I want you to go have a chat with Cavendar,” Drake said pointedly to Silas.

  Silas nodded.

  “Report back to me . . .” Fuck. He almost forgot himself and the fact that he would be with Evangeline for the rest of the day—and night. “I’ll touch base with you tomorrow,” he amended. “I expect the matter to be resolved by then.”

  Again Silas only nodded.

  “Should have just dumped the asshole in the Hudson,” Maddox said darkly, speaking up for the first time.

  A gasp from the elevator made all four men swivel in that direction. Evangeline stood next to Jax, who was shaking his head as if to say they were all stupid fucks for forgetting themselves.

  Hell. Just how much of their conversation had she heard? But Evangeline never once looked in Drake’s direction. She focused only on Maddox, clear indecision in her eyes, but to Maddox’s credit, he didn’t skip a beat. He strode toward her, took the things she was holding in her hands, and promptly dumped them into Silas’s bewildered arms—something Silas had no liking for because it drew attention to him when he would have silently slipped away, as he did around all newcomers—and then Maddox hugged Evangeline and smacked her noisily on the cheek.

  “How’s my favorite kidnappee?” he teased.

  Drake had to rein in his temper over Maddox’s spontaneous display of overd
one affection. He knew well why he’d done it. If Drake hadn’t allowed himself to be distracted, something he found himself guilty of with increasing frequency ever since Evangeline had walked into his club that first night, then he would have damn well known she and Jax were on their way up in the elevator. Hell, he would have known the moment they hit the entrance to the club.

  When Evangeline continued to regard Maddox warily, he sent her a look of indulgence and laughed.

  “Don’t go getting all timid on me now, sweetheart. You’ve already shown me your claws. Don’t worry. I didn’t really dump anyone into the Hudson. It was merely wishful thinking on my part. One has that kind of reaction when their accountant informs them, after filing an extension and paying estimated taxes due because all my K-1s from my investments don’t come in until well after April fifteenth, that I owe substantially more than he first estimated.”

  Even Silas blinked in reaction to how convincing Maddox sounded. Not lost on Drake was the fact that Maddox had purposely used terms Evangeline wouldn’t possibly be familiar with given her economic status, and well, rich or poor, no one loved the IRS.

  Evangeline laughed, the melodious sound easing the tension in the room.

  “You poor baby. I have something to make you feel all better,” she teased, just as he’d teased her.

  Drake’s teeth were now baring themselves. Evangeline was here. Over an hour late, and he didn’t buy Jax’s trumped-up excuse about a fucking traffic jam, but she was here, which meant that everyone else should not be here. And yet here they all stood. He realized then just how much of a distracted idiot he was. His men knew Evangeline was coming in to the club today. Those who hadn’t met her were no doubt dying of curiosity, and those who had just wanted an excuse to see her again. Suddenly Maddox’s threat of dumping someone in the Hudson sounded very appealing, only in this case it was going to be a lot of someones.

  Evangeline reached for the box Jax was holding, and he adopted a wounded puppy-dog look that had Drake wanting to beat his head on the desk. Were his men turning into complete pussies? For fuck’s sake.

  “Hand it over or you don’t get one,” Evangeline said, her attempt at sounding menacing making Thane and Justice chuckle.

  Jax sighed and made an elaborate show of reluctantly handing over the box—or was it a covered plastic food container?

  Evangeline cracked the lid, reached inside and, to Drake’s eternal surprise, drew out one of the cupcakes she’d given him for dessert last night. She held it temptingly under Maddox’s nose.

  “All better now?”

  He narrowed his eyes. “That depends on whether you poisoned them or not.”

  “If I did, it’s nothing more than you deserve. I’m sure your accountant would thank me.”

  Another round of laughter sounded and Drake leaned back in his chair, any effort to disguise his irritation now gone. Not that anyone paid him any attention.

  “Are those cupcakes?” Justice asked incredulously.

  He and Thane were both eyeing Maddox and Evangeline as if they’d sprouted a third head. Drake supposed he could see the humor in the fact that a woman bearing cupcakes had walked into Drake’s inner sanctum where no woman had ever been before. Much less bearing fucking cupcakes.

  Evangeline turned in Thane and Justice’s direction, but Jax cleared his throat. Evangeline rolled her eyes and then handed him one of the baked treats. Drake had a bad feeling that his angel was going to have his men trained like dogs by handing out puppy treats whenever she came near.

  Then she walked over to where Thane and Justice were lounging on the leather couch and dutifully handed over a cupcake.

  What she did next astounded Drake.

  She first walked over to Hatcher, who glanced nervously between her and Drake as if gauging Drake’s reaction or perhaps determining whether he should even be speaking to Drake’s woman.

  “Hi,” she said in a shy voice as she held out a cupcake. “I’m Evangeline.”

  Hatcher took the cupcake and smiled at her. “Hello, Evangeline. I’m Hatcher.”

  But when she then turned her attention to Silas, who had since melted into the farthest corner, one that was so dimly lighted that Drake was surprised she’d located him with such ease, it seemed the entire room held their breath.

  She walked right up to the big man, who stood as still and silent as a statue, and issued a shaky smile. Drake realized then that for all her false bravado, she was, in fact, terrified. All of his earlier irritation fled as pride surged in his veins. Evangeline was doing just as he’d asked her. To walk into his world and accept it—and him. And she’d obviously sensed that by accepting him, she was accepting his men as an extension of himself.

  His jealousy evaporated because she was doing this—all of it—for him.

  He sat back, a small smile on his lips as he watched Evangeline tilt her head to look up at Silas’s much taller frame.

  Then she simply reached into the container, pulled out a cupcake and held it out for Silas to take.

  “Hi,” she said, repeating her earlier introduction to Hatcher. “I’m Evangeline. I promise I didn’t poison your cupcake. Just Maddox’s. And”—she leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially—“I made sure his had sprinkles and pink frosting.”

  Laughter sounded behind her, but she kept her solemn attention on Silas as he slowly reached out, his palm up. She gently set the cupcake down in his hand and he stood there in bewilderment, a perplexed look in his eyes as if he had no idea what to do with Evangeline.

  That makes two of us, brother.

  “We’re having fucking cupcake parties now?”

  Zander’s voice boomed over the quiet room with the effect of a gunshot. Evangeline jumped, knocking the cupcake from Silas’s hand. As it fell to the floor, it landed on his pants, leaving a glob of frosting.

  “Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” Evangeline said in a stricken voice even as she hurried to scrape the frosting from Silas’s knee. “I hope I didn’t ruin your pants. That was so clumsy of me.”

  Mortified tears sprang to Evangeline’s eyes, and her embarrassed flush extended from her cheeks all the way down her neck. She no longer looked at any of the men in the room. Instead her gaze was solidly focused downward as she scrubbed ineffectually at the mess on Silas’s pants.

  Drake cursed, wanting to murder Zander on the spot for the damage he’d inadvertently done. For a few brief moments, Evangeline had overcome her shyness and uncertainty and had begun to relax around Drake and his men. Now she looked as though she’d like nothing more than for the floor to open beneath her and swallow her whole.

  Silas sent Zander a killing stare and then to everyone’s eternal shock, he
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