Dominated, p.17
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       Dominated, p.17

         Part #2 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks
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  “I wanted to ask you about . . . well . . . you. Your past,” she said nervously.

  His lips flattened into a thin line and his eyes became glacial. She wasn’t sure he even realized the change in his features because it appeared he was making an effort not to become angry or irritated at her inquiry.

  “What about it?” he asked in a flat tone.

  She sighed and sat up, positioning her body to the side of him so she could look at him and monitor his reactions.

  “You never talk about it. Your childhood. Your parents. You were obviously not comfortable when my mother brought up your parents. And I realize this may not be something you want to discuss, Drake. If it isn’t, then I’ll drop it. But I feel like it still has power over you in some way. That it . . . hurts you still. And I would do anything to stop you from hurting,” she whispered.

  “Nothing good can come from rehashing the past,” he said grimly. “It’s just that. The past. It happened a long time ago and doesn’t affect us.”

  She shook her head in denial. “You’re wrong,” she said softly. She leaned down and hugged him fiercely to her. “It does affect you still, and anything that affects you affects me. And us.”

  He sighed and she felt the tension whipping and coiling in his body. He was tense beneath her touch, but then he relaxed and wrapped his arms around her as he sat up in bed, pulling her to his chest.

  “What do you want to know?” he asked with obvious discomfort.

  “Only what you’re willing to share,” she replied honestly. “I will never demand more than what you’re willing to give.”

  He sighed again and was silent for a long second. “My parents weren’t exactly poster people for parent-of-the-year awards. Nothing like yours,” he said, and she wondered if he even heard the wistful note in his voice. It made her want to hug him all over again.

  “They were scammers. Into drugs. Easy money. Whatever they had to do so that they didn’t have to work. A child was the very last thing either of them wanted, and in fact my mother wanted to abort me, but my father realized that I would be a meal ticket of sorts for them. Food stamps. A check from the state every month. And all they had to do was keep me and ensure I remained alive. My happiness and comfort weren’t on their list of priorities.”

  Bleakness entered his faraway expression, but he quickly schooled his features as if determined to give them no more power over him than they’d already once had.

  “Oh, Drake,” she said, her lips turning down into a sad smile.

  He smiled at her then and pulled her down so he could kiss her temple. “You’re far too softhearted, my angel. I survived.”

  “But what did you survive?” she asked pointedly. “No one should have to survive their childhood.”

  “No, but many do,” he said gently.

  “How bad was it, Drake?” she asked in an anxious voice.

  He swallowed. “It was bad,” he admitted. “I was just a child who didn’t understand why my parents hated me or why they tolerated me, for that matter. I used to pray that the state would come on an unscheduled visit and remove me from their home. I tried running away more than once. Each time, my father found me, beat me into a bloody pulp, dragged me back home and locked me in a closet for days at a time.”

  She emitted a shocked gasp, her eyes round with horror. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle her agonized cry.

  Drake shrugged. “It wasn’t so bad. I preferred being in the closet over being in their way. If they were running low on drugs or food, it got really bad. Withdrawal would hit and they’d lash out at the source of their unhappiness. Me. So I learned to blend in, to be very quiet and to stay in the shadows. Ironically it was probably my father who kept me alive. My mother, as I said, would have preferred to abort me, and she developed quite a nasty narcotic pain pill habit as a result of her emergency C-section when she had me. My father reminded her at every turn that if they got rid of the ‘little beast,’ as she liked to call me, she’d have to find a job to support her addiction.”

  Evangeline was too overwhelmed to give voice to any of the million thoughts screaming in her head. She was too horrified and appalled by how pathetic humanity was. He’d been just a child. Someone who hadn’t asked to be born. Her hands were shaking and she lowered them to hide them at Drake’s side, clenching her fingers together so her trembling didn’t give her away.

  “There’s little point in rehashing my entire childhood,” he said in a gentle voice. As though he were protecting her from the awfulness of his past. For that alone, she wanted to weep. Because when had he ever had anyone to protect him?

  “What happened to them? How did you finally escape?”

  He grimaced. “My old man was shot by a drug dealer he owed a shit-ton of money to. Again, he wasn’t parent or husband of the year, but he did at least try to look out for me. When he wasn’t beating the hell out of me,” he added dryly. “And he tried to look out for my mother the only way he knew how. By keeping her supplied with her candy of choice. The result was him running up a tab he had no hope of repaying, and they came to collect one night when I was locked in the closet. Again, the closet likely saved my life because if they’d known I was there, they would have either killed me to make their point or taken me, not knowing my parents didn’t give a shit about me and wouldn’t have done a damn thing to get me back.”

  “What about your mother?” she whispered.

  It made her vaguely ill, but in this moment, she hoped the woman died a long, painful death.

  “They quickly figured out the best way to make her suffer was by not killing her and ending her pathetic excuse of a life. With my old man out of the way, she had no help, no support, and she was in agony with withdrawal. They laughed at her and told her to enjoy cold turkey.”

  Drake reached for one of her hands and pried it away from the other before lacing his fingers in hers.

  “Two days later, she killed herself, and I remember standing over her grave and vowing that her life wouldn’t be mine. Would never be mine. I wanted better. I was eleven years old and small for my age because of malnourishment and abuse. But I was already planning my future. One doesn’t grow up with drug dealers and gangs without being somewhat street smart and knowing what it takes to survive.”

  “No one took you in after your mother died?” Evangeline asked in bewilderment.

  Drake shrugged. “Someone probably would have. At the very least I would have been placed in the system and shuffled from home to home until I turned eighteen. But that wasn’t an option for me. At eleven years old, all I could think was that if my own parents couldn’t love me, then how could anyone else?”

  She could no longer prevent the tears from leaking down her cheeks. She stared at him, her vision blurry with moisture, and then she launched herself at him, throwing her arms around him, pulling him close to her and the erratic beat of her heart.

  “I love you, Drake Donovan,” she whispered fiercely. “I’ll always love you. You never have to be alone again and you’ll never be without someone who loves you.”

  He looked shocked, like it was the very last thing he’d expected her to say. She hadn’t meant to say it like that. Not now. Not yet. But there was never a better time and she could not allow him to go any longer without knowing she loved him and would do anything for him. No sacrifice was too great.

  “Angel,” he whispered, his voice breaking. “I—I don’t even know what to say. You have no idea how precious a gift this is. I don’t deserve it,” he said in a shaken tone.

  She put her finger to his lips, her expression fierce. “Do not,” she commanded. “Do not ever tell me you don’t deserve it. As for not knowing what to say, you don’t have to say anything at all. You only have to listen. I love you, Drake. Completely, unconditionally, without measure.”

  He crushed her to him, burying his face in her hair. His entire body shook with the force of his emotion and she simply held him, stroking his back and shoulders, all the while whisper
ing her love for him in his ear.

  22

  For once, Evangeline was looking forward to a shopping trip. She’d been a little disappointed that Maddox or Silas wasn’t free to take her. She’d grown to rely on the two men and their steady companionship. She was admittedly closer to them than any of Drake’s other men, but all of them were warm and friendly with her at all times.

  But even knowing Maddox and Silas were busy, her enthusiasm couldn’t be dimmed. She was going shopping for Drake’s Christmas present. She’d pulled out the cash and the credit cards Silas had delivered to her seemingly a lifetime ago, and she grinned, not feeling any remorse for using Drake’s money to buy his gift with.

  Today was going to be . . . fun.

  “Yo, Evangeline, you here?” Zander called from the foyer.

  She stuffed the money and credit cards in her purse and hurried out to greet him, a welcoming smile on her face. Her eyes widened when she saw two of Drake’s other men accompanying Zander. Thane and . . . Damn it. She couldn’t remember the other guy’s name and it would seem so rude if she couldn’t figure out a way around him knowing that little fact.

  She remembered him, of course. He was quieter than the others but very sweet and considerate toward her. It reminded her of Hartley’s name. Damn it!

  “Hey, love,” Zander boomed out, hugging her and smacking her noisily on the cheek.

  “Hey, Zander,” she said warmly. Then she turned. “Hello, Thane.” Then she looked at the third man and, thank God, his name popped into her head at the right time. “Hatcher. How are you?”

  The other man seemed surprised by her address, but then perhaps he’d assumed she wouldn’t remember him since they hadn’t spent that much time together. He looked delighted, however, and smiled broadly back at her.

  “Hello, Evangeline. You ready to go shopping today?” Hatcher said, offering her his arm as they headed toward the elevator.

  “Yes, I am, and I desperately need y’all’s help.”

  Thane chuckled, causing Evangeline to swing her gaze in his direction. “What’s so funny?” she asked.

  “Nothing, darlin’. I just get tickled when I hear your adorable Southern accent and how you say ‘y’all,’” he said with a grin.

  Her mouth popped open. “Like you have room to talk! Aren’t we supposed to be on each other’s sides as Southern folk trapped together in the big bad city?”

  Hatcher and Zander joined in the laughter while Thane held up his arm in a signal of peace.

  “Now, darlin’, you know I don’t mean anything by it. I have to admit, you make me homesick every time I listen to you talk.”

  His voice dropped an octave and for a moment she truly believed he did get homesick. There was a look in his eyes that made her feel sad.

  “That Thanksgiving dinner you cooked reminded me of my mama’s cooking,” Thane went on to explain. “Best damn meal I’ve had since I left home all those years ago.”

  “Then clearly I need to invite you over to dinner more often,” Evangeline said firmly. “Southern food is a must and can’t be forgotten once tasted. That’s a sin in anyone’s Bible, I’m sure.”

  Zander shot Thane a black look and then shook his head in Hatcher’s direction. “Can you believe Mr. Slick here and how he just managed to finagle regular dinner invitations without so much as breaking a sweat?”

  Evangeline notched her chin up in the air and then slid her arm underneath Thane’s. “Y’all would do well to take pointers from a true Southern gentleman,” she said with a sniff. “They know what’s important to a woman’s heart.”

  “And a Southern lady knows what’s important to a Southern man’s stomach,” Thane said, his eyes twinkling. “It’s why all the best Southern ladies know how to cook. They do know how to take care of their man,” he said wistfully.

  Hatcher and Zander both rolled their eyes in disgust, but Thane eyed them slyly.

  “Roll your eyes now. Just wait until I’m having dinner with Evangeline and eating her amazing cooking and you two are out eating tacos or that other takeout shit y’all consume on a regular basis.”

  “Tell me, Thane. Where are you from exactly?” Evangeline asked as he handed her into the waiting car.

  “M-I-crooked-letter-crooked-letter-I-crooked-letter-crooked-letter-I . . .”

  “Humpback-humpback-I,” she finished breathlessly, her eyes sparkling with fun.

  “What the hell kind of foreign language are you two spouting now?” Zander grumbled.

  “He’s from Mississippi,” Evangeline replied, still grinning. “Just like I am!”

  “And you were able to tell that from him chanting about eyes and crooked letters?”

  Zander’s expression was baffled, and he looked at them as though they’d both lost their minds. She and Thane both burst into laughter.

  “What part of the state are you from, Thane?” Evangeline asked. “I’m from the south. A very small town about thirty miles north of the coast.”

  “Jackson area,” Thane said vaguely.

  Evangeline got the impression that Thane didn’t talk much about his past, but then none of Drake’s men ever did. They treated their past as though it hadn’t happened, was off-limits or it was simply distasteful. Maybe all three.

  “What do you say we grab lunch before our shopping ordeal begins?” Hatcher asked with an indulgent smile in Evangeline’s direction.

  “Ooohh, do I get to pick?” she asked.

  “That depends,” Zander said, glowering at her.

  “Wagyu steak?” she wheedled.

  “I’m in,” Thane emphatically announced.

  “Hell yeah, I’m in,” Hatcher said immediately.

  “You’re outvoted,” Evangeline told Zander smugly.

  He snorted. “As if I’m going to turn down Wagyu steak.”

  And so it was half an hour later that Evangeline found herself seated at a table in the corner of the restaurant where Justice had first taken her to eat the sumptuous steak.

  “Does it make me a horrible person to say I could eat this every single day for the rest of my life and die happy?” she asked, once their orders had been taken.

  “Nope,” Zander replied. “It’s good stuff. Why eat shit if you can eat the best?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Not all of us are in the position of affording to eat like this once a month, much less every day.”

  “I don’t think you have to worry about that anymore,” Thane said. “If it made you happy, Drake would hire the chef away from this restaurant and he’d have him to the apartment every day cooking it for you.”

  “Oh good Lord,” she said in disgust. “Not a single one of you better even jokingly suggest such a thing to him. I would die of mortification.”

  Zander shook his head and chuckled. “There are worse things a man could do for his woman.”

  “I’m going to the ladies’ room to freshen up before our food gets here,” Evangeline announced, rising from her chair.

  The men immediately frowned and when Thane would have risen to go with her, Hatcher, who was at the end of the table, slid from his chair.

  “I’ll walk her back,” he said easily.

  She refrained from rolling her eyes again. Barely. But to be fair, Drake had warned her of the way things would be from now on. It wasn’t his fault she’d momentarily forgotten. The day seemed so . . . normal. As if none of them had a care in the world. Just a group of friends out for lunch and shopping. Only, if Drake and, well, Maddox and Silas too were to be believed, there was significant danger to her anytime she was by herself.

  That thought was enough to quell any protest she might have made that she could go to the bathroom by herself. Drake didn’t ask her for much, and he’d been so generous with her that no way would she throw a fit and act like a recalcitrant child.

  “Thank you, Hatcher,” she said, smiling at him.

  Hatcher walked her toward the dark foyer and gestured toward the end. “The ladies’ room is at the very back. I
ll stand here and make sure no one gets by me who I remotely think could be a threat.”

  She shivered at the gravity in his tone but didn’t respond, nor did she ask him the question she was dying to ask—if he really thought danger lurked around every corner or if this was just Drake being overprotective of her.

  Instead, she hurried into the bathroom, not wanting to take any longer than necessary. Her last trip to a public restroom had been nothing short of disastrous when that tall brunette had ripped her to shreds with those ridiculously long claws of her. Figuratively speaking, of course. She’d certainly scored a few direct hits, but then so had Evangeline.

  Given time and distance from the event, Evangeline could actually be proud of herself for not allowing the woman to see how upset she had been. She’d made cutting remarks of her own that had definitely found their target, judging by the way the woman’s face had paled and then the flash of feminine rage had sparked in her eyes.

  But she’d had no comeback to Evangeline’s remarks about Drake not sharing anything he considered his or that Evangeline was on his arm when it was a well-known fact, according to Drake’s men, that he never had a “bitch” on his arm in public.

  She cringed, flinching from his men’s use of the word to describe women. It wasn’t flattering in the least, and if she didn’t know for sure that they didn’t put all women into the bitch category she’d tear each of them a new asshole for referring to the female species in such a derogatory manner.

  She finished her business and then washed her hands and did a quick once-over of her makeup. She blinked as she saw the woman staring back at her from the mirror. She stopped in her tracks, staring even harder when she realized the woman she was studying so hard was herself.

  How much she’d changed in the short time she’d known Drake and been drawn into his world. Gone were the grubby, secondhand clothes, her hair perpetually pulled up into a messy bun or worse, a ponytail holder, and the plain, unsophisticated features of her face.

  She looked . . . Her eyes widened and she gasped as she realized where her thoughts were headed. She looked like she . . . belonged. Here. In Drake’s world. She looked like someone Drake would be likely to be seen with. When had it happened, this transformation from small-town, hopelessly gauche and naïve girl to someone more worldly and sophisticated? She looked almost . . . pretty.

  She touched her mouth and then ran her finger over the expensive eye shadow. She wasn’t made up heavily. Her makeup was subtle and elegant looking. It made her look naturally beautiful instead of like someone who had to wear several layers of cosmetics to achieve that fresh, effervescent look.

  Her lip gloss was sheer with a shine and sparkle she was still enough of a girl to appreciate. What woman didn’t love sparkly things? Even if she wouldn’t admit it. She had no problem admitting her feminine predilections because Drake enjoyed each and every one of them. He’d confided in her several times that he loved how much of a “girl” she was and that it took a strong, self-assured woman to allow herself to be utterly feminine and not concern herself with being taken seriously by the rest of the world.

  She smiled. Drake might love that about her, but it was himself he needed to thank for that metamorphosis. Because it was he who’d given her that confidence in herself.

  Realizing if she didn’t hurry, her food would arrive and begin to grow cold, she finished drying her hands and then walked out the door into the darkened hallway. Almost immediately, she bumped into another person, and she murmured her pardon. But when the person didn’t move and she realized that it was a man, when the men’s bathroom was all the way at the front of the hall with the women’s in the very back, she became alarmed and started to step around the figure so she could call for Hatcher if needed.

  But once more, he effectively blocked her path by moving to intercept her, and as he did so, he opened his coat to reveal a badge affixed to the waist of his pants. And she also saw the really big pistol in the shoulder holster he wore. Fear spiked through her blood until she was dizzy from it.

  “What do you want?” she croaked out.

  “Ms. Hawthorn,” the man said in a low voice. “May I have a moment of your time, please? I won’t take long. I promise. But it’s about a very important matter. A police matter.”

  23

  “What do you want from me?” Evangeline managed to squeak out.

  He gave her an impatient look that suggested he didn’t buy her dimwitted act. Only it wasn’t an act! What could the police possibly want with her?

  “Your boyfriend is Drake Donovan, correct?”

  An icy chill slithered down her spine, and then her back went rigid and she notched her chin up defiantly.

  “I fail to see how my personal life is any of your business, and it hardly constitutes a police matter.”

  “Do you know just what all he’s into?” the cop asked, his expression darkening.

  “He’s a businessman,” Evangeline snapped. “He owns several businesses, as a matter of fact. One of them is the club Impulse. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.”

  The cop shook his head. “You’re too naïve and trusting for your own good, Ms. Hawthorn. He’s been linked to organized crime, as well as heading an organized-crime syndicate. The men escorting you around? All soldiers in his
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