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         Part #1 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks

  she’d expend even a morsel of compassion or pity for Eddie’s plight because he deserved every single thing done to him tonight.

  Okay, so her arm would hurt like hell for a few days. But still.

  The man who’d commanded her to stay, like she was some trained dog, turned his attention back to Eddie and then roughly yanked him up by his collar and tossed—yes, tossed—Eddie like a rag doll to another man who was as big and as intimidating as he was. The new guy, someone she hadn’t even noticed until now, simply turned, dragging Eddie behind him, away from the entrance where Evangeline had entered the club, as though he weighed absolutely nothing. How had she not noticed the new guy’s arrival? He was every bit as impressive as the guy who’d intervened on her behalf and then ordered her not to move, and certainly not someone she’d ever overlook in any other circumstances. Geez, but suddenly the small front bar was filled with hot, badass-looking guys who had simply materialized in a matter of seconds and prevented Eddie from punching her directly in the face. He could have easily broken her jaw or her nose, and God only knew what other damage he would have inflicted if not for the men who’d effortlessly put a stop to his assault. No matter how badass and intimidating they looked, they hadn’t once threatened her or made her feel unsafe. Nervous? Yes. Because she’d been commanded not to so much as move from where she stood, but as naïve as it made her sound, she truly didn’t believe these new men would lay a finger on her. Maybe that made her stupid and a complete moron, but given a choice between them and Eddie, who she knew meant her serious harm, she’d take the unknown without a second thought. And that gave her a measure of comfort and reassurance.

  How they pulled that off she would never know, because these men were not men who would ever go unnoticed even in a much, much larger crowd. They were big, tall men, with broad shoulders, ripped muscles and faces you could break a stone on. And they all looked . . . pissed. At her? For her? It was hard to tell, although not one of them spared a glance in her direction. No, their anger and disgust was solely focused on Eddie and the pitiful sight he made squirming around on the floor.

  Eddie was not a small man, but these guys? They made Eddie look like a scrawny boy.

  She swallowed. Hard. And her hand automatically went to her arm as the man who’d intervened on her behalf turned his attention fully on her now that Eddie had been dragged away.

  She idly wondered where exactly they were taking him, but then decided she needed to be more worried about how she was going to get out of here. Or if they were taking her anywhere. Panic swamped her and she could feel the beginnings of a full-scale mother of all anxiety attacks. Not what she needed tonight. She just wanted to call the number her girlfriends had provided and be picked up and out of there as soon as humanly possible.

  “Um, thank you,” she stammered out. “I’ll just be going now. I shouldn’t have come.”

  The man’s expression gentled and he put his hand out to her shoulder. She flinched involuntarily, a natural reaction after being assaulted by another man. He frowned, his eyes narrowing, as though he’d been insulted by her response, intentional or not, but his displeasure wasn’t in any way reflected in his touch.

  It was exceedingly gentle and he gave her a reassuring squeeze even as his frown disappeared and he regarded her almost tenderly.

  Now Maddox understood all too well Drake’s reaction and his instant call for Maddox, Zander and Silas to intervene, because this was one mean son of a bitch taking out his rage and humiliation on a beautiful woman half his size.

  He also understood Drake’s uncharacteristic response to this particular woman because she was a lone sheep in a pack of vicious, bloodletting wolves.

  “Are you okay?” he asked quietly in a very gentle tone, not wanting to frighten or intimidate her further. It was obvious to anyone that she was absolutely at her breaking point, and it fired all the protective instincts he’d seen reflected. She needed extremely gentle care or she was going to fall apart at any moment. And fuck it all, but that pissed him off royally. He wanted to be outside teaching the little bastard a lesson even though the others were more than capable of beating the little bastard, a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. He just wished he could take part. But this woman needed very careful handling, and now he understood Drake’s adamancy that Maddox take care of the woman and see her safely to Drake’s quarters. If Drake hadn’t already staked a claim, she would be coming home with him tonight and never have to worry about the asshole he’d gotten off her ever coming within a mile of her.

  “Yes. No. I will be. Just as soon as I leave,” she muttered.

  Clearly Evangeline was losing her mind. Guys like him weren’t sweet and caring. He’d probably be horrified if she ever voiced the opinion that his touch was gentle and his expression tender. He’d likely take it as an insult.

  He shook his head.

  She looked at him in panic. “What does that mean?”

  “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that,” he said softly. “The boss wouldn’t like that and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Mr. Donovan wants to see you. He sent me to get you.” Then his lips curled in disgust as he spared one quick glance over his shoulder as if to reassure himself the matter with Eddie was fully resolved. “And to take out the trash.” The last rumbled from deep within his chest, and she could tell he was pissed all over again.

  Then she really panicked.

  “But why? I didn’t do anything! I was standing here minding my own business and that . . . that . . . asshole assaulted me,” she sputtered.

  His gaze darkened as fury crept over his features, and she wished she’d just kept her mouth shut. Then, as if he’d realized he was scaring the crap out of her, his expression went bland, and then the gentleness was back in both touch and expression.

  “I truly am sorry,” he said, his voice soothing. “But Mr. Donovan wants to see you. He sent me to get you, so that’s what I’m going to do. I won’t hurt you. I’m Maddox, by the way. And I’ll tell you now, Drake is an intimidating son of a bitch, but he will not hurt you. Do you understand what I’m telling you? Don’t act afraid. You will tell him what made that asshole act like a douche bag before he got thrown out of the club. Furthermore, that bastard will never be allowed back into any of Drake’s establishments, but he’ll take it one step further. He has contacts all over the city, and that dickhead will not only be banned from any business Drake owns, but he will be blackballed from any similar establishments.”

  She sent him another startled look. He was introducing himself like this was some social thing when he was, in effect, holding her prisoner. Just not in so many words.

  “E-Evangeline,” she managed to get out.

  He smiled then, and wow. He had a killer smile. Her knees went a little weak and she was suddenly glad his hand was still curled around her shoulder. Otherwise she might have face-planted.

  “Very pretty,” he murmured. “Now, if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you to Mr. Donovan.”

  The panic was back. Fear skittered up her spine and flooded her face.

  Maddox had started to propel her in the direction of a set of stairs just outside the doorway leading to the dance floor when he saw her face and immediately stopped, staring directly into her eyes.

  “He won’t hurt you. No one will hurt you. You have my word.”

  “Then why . . . I don’t understand,” she said in frustration. She wanted to ask more but he stopped one more time and turned, gently cupping her cheek in a very surprising motion because he didn’t look like a man who made affectionate or comforting gestures, and he’d been nothing but extremely gentle and compassionate toward her ever since he’d put a stop to Eddie’s assault.

  “You didn’t do anything, Evangeline. Now, please, come with me.”

  She didn’t get to finish her endless questions because once more she found herself moving toward the stairs. She wasn’t sure exactly how he managed it. Her feet certainly didn’t want to obey. She didn’t want to obey. And
yet in a matter of moments they were at the stairs. But then he bypassed them and entered a dark hall that did little to allay her fears.

  He obviously felt her tremble because he gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and then suddenly he settled her against him, pulling her into the crook of his arm as he pushed the button to an elevator. An elevator?

  “Relax,” he murmured. “I swore to you no one would hurt you. And I never break my word.”

  “Never?”

  His eyes flashed with amusement as the elevator door whooshed open. “Never.”

  “It’s got to be a requirement,” she muttered, as the elevator closed and then began its assent.

  He looked at her in confusion.

  “For working here,” she said patiently. “It has to be a requirement.”

  “What is?” he asked, clearly puzzled. “Not breaking my word?”

  “Being hot. Everyone’s hot here. Even the bouncers. And the waitresses. And whatever you and those other guys are. It should be a crime.”

  She said it like it was a crime, and well, it was. No one should be this freaking gorgeous. Or nice. They all looked too badass to take the time to reassure a confused woman who was scared out of her mind. The bouncer at the front door. The bartender. Hot guy number one, who’d crushed Eddie like a bug. Hot guy number two, to whom hot guy number one had tossed Eddie. Not to mention the other hot guy who’d appeared, apparently to help hot guy number two escort Eddie out. The waitresses. And then there were the clubgoers themselves.

  “And apparently only beautiful people are allowed here,” she muttered under her breath but apparently loud enough that Maddox could hear, judging by the laughter brimming in his eyes. “I knew it was a mistake to come. I don’t belong here. I should have just stayed home.”

  At that he immediately sobered, and he had that scary look back. He stared fiercely at her. His eyes narrowed as he studied her, disbelief reflected in his beautiful eyes.

  “You don’t think you’re beautiful?”

  Her mouth gaped open. “Duh! I don’t think. I know! You can’t change what is.”

  He didn’t look at all happy with her statement, but before he could respond, the elevator opened directly into a darkened, spacious room. She had to blink to adjust to the lower lighting and realized the only light illuminating the room came from video monitors placed on the wall. Surveillance. So that was why someone had ridden to the rescue. Well, thank God for that, because it wasn’t as if any of the other customers were going to intervene.

  Maddox cursed softly, shaking his head as he propelled Evangeline into the room. He’d opened his mouth as if to speak or respond to her statement but snapped it shut the minute the elevator opened. But he still looked pissed, which she was beginning to think was also a requirement of working here. Hot and perpetually pissed. She had to say, when not directed at her, the hot and pissed-off look was pretty damn hot.

  “Her name is Evangeline,” Maddox said.

  “Leave us,” a deep male voice sounded.

  She glanced around, trying to find the source of the voice. She turned back to Maddox because suddenly Maddox didn’t seem to be so bad. And Maddox had been nice to her. Well, except for the kidnapping and not-allowing-her-to-leave part.

  But Maddox had melted away, the elevator door already closing, leaving her alone with whoever the mysterious Mr. Donovan was.

  Shit, shit, shit.

  Realization struck her that she’d just jumped from the frying pan into the fire and there was no one to save her this time.

  Evangeline glanced nervously around the room, shivering as a feeling of power surrounded her. She could swear she smelled the man, and it was intoxicating.

  “Um, Mr. Donovan?”

  Once again she glanced anxiously, trying to pinpoint his location.

  And then she saw him. He stepped from the shadows of the far corner of the room, and her eyes widened in surprise and in pure female appreciation. Whoa. Now she got it. She understood the rules and who they were inspired by. If Mr. Donovan ran Impulse, it certainly made sense that someone as beautiful as him would surround himself by equally beautiful people.

  She stared in fascination as he regarded her intently, his dark eyes raking over her, making her feel suddenly exposed and extremely vulnerable. She swallowed hard because she could swear she saw a flash of interest in his arresting liquid brown eyes. Maybe Eddie had hit her because clearly she was out of her mind. But it was a nice fantasy.

  He wore his hair short, and he had a polished, sophisticated look that screamed wealth and power. His features were sharply defined, with a hard set to his jaw. He had a broad, muscled chest and shoulders, and was a lot taller than she was. She’d have to stand on tiptoe just to reach his chin!

  Her gaze was drawn to his mouth. Over and over again, she came back. After checking out a different feature, her gaze flitted back to the hard line of his mouth, and she felt all tingly imagining what his mouth would feel like on her skin.

  Heat scorched over her body followed swiftly by mortification for even entertaining such ludicrous thoughts. As if a man like him would even give her the time of day.

  Then suddenly he strode forward, a determined, pissed-off look on his face, and she braced for the inevitable confrontation.

  To her complete shock, he gently grasped the arm that Eddie had bruised, and turned it so he could inspect the extent of her injury. Fury blazed in his eyes, but he didn’t let go of her arm, though his hold was infinitely tender.

  Chill bumps erupted and raced across the arm he was touching, and a peculiar sensation welled in the pit of her stomach. Her vagina clenched and her nipples tingled, suddenly hypersensitive, and became rigid points. She had the urge to cross her arms over her breasts because she was sure he could see the imprint of the puckered ridges through the thin material of her dress.

  What the hell was happening here? Had she entered an alternate reality? This was so not her. She didn’t spaz and become a walking hormone around a man—any man. She didn’t have time for men, and the one time she’d made the time . . . well, it was obvious what that got her.

  And suddenly the beast was unleashed, and she tried to take a hasty step back, but his firm yet gentle grip on her arm prevented her from doing so.

  “What the hell were you thinking coming into a place like this?” he demanded, fury lacing his every word.

  She immediately dropped her gaze, shame and mortification seizing her in a grip that rivaled Eddie’s earlier assault on her arm.

  “I know I don’t belong,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper. “I know I’m not good enough to be in a place like this. Where only beautiful and rich people come.”

  Her voice grew more resigned and subdued with every word. She could barely speak for the humiliation knotting her throat.

  “I’ll just go now. I’m sorry I was a bother. I caused a . . . scene. I won’t be back. I promise. You won’t ever have to worry about me showing up here—or anywhere—again.”

  She tensed in his hold, fully expecting him to let go and let her walk out. When his grasp remained intact, panic kicked in and she looked frantically up at him, blanching at the rage in his eyes.

  “Please. Let me go. I swear to you I’ll never come back.”

  His expression was carved in stone, that hard jaw she’d observed earlier much more noticeable now.

  “Then why did you come?” he asked bluntly, making her cringe at his crassness.

  Was he really going to make her spell it out to him? Give him a play-by-play of her lack of worthiness to grace the premises of his club? And damn her propensity for always blurting out the truth, no matter how painful. It was a flaw she would be thrilled to be rid of. But no. Before she was even cognizant of what she was saying, the whole ugly story came pouring out.

  “The man who assaulted me is my ex . . . boyfriend. Lover. Whatever. Though I’d hardly consider us lovers,” she said bitterly. “I was a challenge to him. Was being the key word. He knew I w
as a virgin, and so he coaxed me and wined and dined me, pretending interest because he wanted to be m-my f-first,” she stammered out, heat scorching her entire face.

  Drake cursed savagely, startling her with his vehemence, but she plunged ahead, only wanting to be done so that maybe he’d finally let her go.

  “As soon as I finally gave in, stupidly thinking that he was someone special, he dumped me on the spot. He said I was a terrible lay. I overheard him complaining to his friends, people. I don’t know who they were,” she said painfully. “He said that sticking his dick in my c-cunt—” She broke off, mortified over her use of the offensive word. Then she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “He said it was like fucking a snowdrift. And it definitely wasn’t worth the three months he had to wait for me to give it up. He repeated the sentiment tonight to my face.”

  “So you came tonight to see him?” Drake asked incredulously. “Why the hell would you want to do that? For fuck’s sake, did you want him back?”

  Her head snapped up, her anger surging hot through her veins. “No,” she hissed. “Not now. Not ever. My girlfriends talked me into coming. Said I needed to get back some of my own. Steph had a VIP pass, and they spent an hour making me up. Shoes, killer heels, hair, makeup, the works.

  “They thought I should let him see what he’d shit on,” she said dully. “I told them it was stupid. This place is for beautiful people. Even the people who work here are gorgeous. Everyone is freaking perfect. And then there was me, sticking out like a sore thumb. The people in line outside knew I didn’t belong. The people inside knew I didn’t belong. And you obviously knew I didn’t belong because you sent your goon to get rid of me. So if you’ll just let me be on my way, I’d appreciate it. I’ve already promised I’ll never darken the door of your club again. This has been a humiliating enough night as it is, and I can only take so much.”

  He gave her a look that was a combination of bewilderment and super pissed off.

  “You don’t think you fucking outshine every bitch out there and that they don’t know that?” he clipped out angrily. “You didn’t see that the skank with your ex was ready to rip your hair out by the roots because she isn’t as gorgeous as you and never will be? There isn’t a bottle made that can duplicate the kind of beauty you have. And those bitches in there don’t hold a candle to your kind of shine, and they hate you for it.”

  She looked at him absolutely stunned, her eyes wide with shock.

  He swore viciously, causing her to flinch again.

  “No, it’s obvious you don’t see it,” he said in a grim voice. “You don’t see your own goddamn appeal, and that makes you even more attractive to men.”

  “You don’t have to say that to make me feel better,” she said softly. “It’s kind of you, but the truth is always better. I prefer to keep it real. I know what I am and what I’m not. I accept that.”

  Before she could process what the ever-loving hell he was doing, he pulled her roughly into his arms so she landed with a soft thud against his chest. He tilted her chin up, his hand nearly covering half her face it was so large, and then he crushed his mouth to hers, devouring her lips as though he were starving.

  It was the equivalent of being struck by lightning. Every nerve ending in her body promptly jolted, and she gasped, opening her mouth to his advancing tongue. He probed delicately, with patience that contradicted his impatient, seemingly angry movements.

  She let out a delicious sigh because that mouth. Oh God, but she’d been so right about his mouth and lips, but now that she’d experienced his tongue, suddenly her attention wasn’t quite as focused on his lips.

  He tasted—and smelled—divine. Hot, alpha, badass male. Arrogant. Confident. And so yummy looking she couldn’t fathom that she was standing in his office while he was thoroughly kissing her in a way she’d never been kissed before.

  And she’d only known him for all of five minutes!

  She put her hands up to his chest, her intent to ward him off, but as soon as her palms made contact with the muscled wall, they stopped and simply absorbed his heat as she leaned further into his kiss with a soft sigh of surrender.

  • • •

  Drake had heard all the not-good-enough, not-beautiful, don’t-belong bullshit he was going to put up with for the night. Evangeline, Angel. Yes, her name suited her to perfection. She was the most beautiful woman in the entire goddamn club, and here she stood spouting shit that she truly believed. And in no way was he going to be able to change her mind with just a few words, so he did what he’d been dying to do ever since he’d seen her walk through the door of the front bar.

  He hauled her against his body so she landed against his chest, the plush softness of her breasts searing his flesh even through two layers of clothing—his and hers. Then he crashed his mouth down on hers and feasted like a man long deprived of such beauty.

  His lips lightened and he licked delicately over the full plump bottom lip, nipping lightly with his teeth, a request for her to open her sweet mouth so he could get inside where it was even sweeter.

  With a stuttered gasp, she complied, though he wasn’t sure if she’d actually made the cognizant decision to allow his tongue access or whether she was merely starving for air, since she hadn’t taken a single breath since his mouth had crashed down on hers. But he wasn’t waiting around to find out.

  He thrust his tongue inward, nearly groaning aloud as she tentatively met his thrust with just the tip of her tongue. A brush so soft, it was like a butterfly’s wings.

  God, if her mouth tasted this sweet, he could only imagine how sweet her pussy would taste. And he had a sudden urgency to find out.

  He wrapped his arms around her, hauling her body into his until there was no space between them, until her softness melted into his much harder frame and molded to his. He could feel her breasts, even the turgid points of her nipples through what had to be a sheer, lacy bra for all the protection it offered. For that matter, she likely wasn’t wearing one since the dress didn’t allow much in the way of the inner trappings.

  Just the thought of there being nothing between him and those beautiful breasts, those nipples thrusting against his chest, except the sheer dress she wore had his dick roaring to life and surging against his pants like a randy teenager making it with his girlfriend for the first time.

  Mindful of his desire to taste her feminine nectar, he reached down and swept her into his arms, ignoring her sudden cry of alarm. She didn’t fight him. If she had, he would have offered her reassurance that he damn sure wasn’t going to hurt her. She merely lay rigid in his arms, her breaths coming in sporadic bursts, her cheeks a delectable shade of pink.

  She was flush with arousal and he enjoyed savage satisfaction over the fact that she wanted him. Fucking a snowdrift? Her ex had to be out of his fucking mind. Drake didn’t need to be balls deep inside her to know she’d have him going up in flames. He was about to come in his pants and he hadn’t even gotten her on
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