Kept, p.5
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       Kept, p.5
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         Part #3 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks

  Never one to chance anything, he stood and slipped his gun into the shoulder holster he always wore. Then he secured his knives in their rightful places on his body. When he was fully armed, he threw on a light jacket but kept the front open so he could easily access his weapons. Then he went to the door, uneasiness gripping him. But when he glanced through the peephole, he nearly stumbled back in shock.

  Hayley?

  What the hell was she doing here? How had she even known he lived here?

  He forced himself to calm his rapid breathing and still his racing pulse. Perhaps she didn’t at all know who lived here. Perhaps she was merely being neighborly. Or maybe she had a problem or needed something—help.

  His mind sorted through the various possibilities at the speed of a computer. She seemed to be every bit as much of a loner as he was. He never saw anyone at her apartment. She never entertained. Didn’t seem to have friends, or at least no one she invited over. But then she was rarely at home. For that matter, what was she doing home so early today?

  It was the thought of her needing help or having a problem that made Silas go against his every instinct and begin unlocking the series of deadbolts. If it had been anyone else, he would have simply ignored the knock and left whoever it was to conclude no one was home.

  When he got to the last lock, he realized, to his consternation, that his hands were trembling. He took a step back, sucking in a deep breath to compose himself, and then he slowly rolled the doorknob in his palm and eased the door open.

  9

  Hayley swallowed her nervousness as she knocked a second time, deciding that if no one answered she would simply leave the pie on his doorstep with the thank-you card, and she’d simply write the instructions to promptly refrigerate the pie at the bottom of her note.

  She was about to squat to set the pie to the side when she heard fumbling with the locks from the inside. She quickly rose, her mouth going dry. She wiped her free hand down the leg of her jeans to rid it of the clammy moisture and waited as she heard more locks being undone.

  She frowned. How many locks did the owner have on his door? Was he aware of danger to the apartment building that she wasn’t? Perhaps he was simply paranoid. She suspected he was an elderly man, perhaps even retired, and renting out the apartments to supplement his pension. She could hardly fault him for wanting to feel safe.

  But when the door finally opened, Hayley’s mouth fell open as she stared into the face of a man who wasn’t remotely elderly or even middle-aged. She shivered at the cold flatness to his eyes and the fact that his expression portrayed irritation and surprise and was definitely not welcoming. In that moment, she knew she’d made a huge mistake by encroaching on his privacy. His irritation over the intrusion was plain to see on his face. If her feet had not been rooted to the floor in fear, she would have fled.

  He was young. Or at least far younger than she’d imagined, having already conjured an elderly retired gentleman. Yet older than she was by at least ten years. Maybe more. It was hard to tell. He had a timeless look but upon closer examination, there were lines in his face that told of pain and a man aged beyond his years. He was also devastatingly handsome. Tall, very broad shouldered, his chest massive. Even his thighs, encased as they were in faded denim, bulged like tree trunks. There didn’t appear to be an inch of spare flesh anywhere on him, and his thin T-shirt would certainly have betrayed such if there were.

  His hair, perhaps the darkest black she could ever remember seeing, was a brilliant foil for the dark green eyes assessing her until she squirmed beneath his scrutiny. She could feel his gaze, an electric current, as it swept over her, and then when he finally met her gaze, she was thunderstruck. A full-body shiver rolled through her and chill bumps prickled and danced over every inch of her skin.

  It was obvious she was intruding and equally obvious the intrusion wasn’t welcome. Acute embarrassment seized her, and to her mortification, heat invaded her cheeks at the realization he could surely see the betraying flush.

  “Uh, I’m sorry to b-bother you,” she stammered awkwardly. “One of the other renters told me that y-you lived here, next door I mean, and I wanted to th-thank you—in person—for renting me the apartment. You have no idea how desperate I was to find an affordable place to live.”

  She was babbling and knew she should just shove the pie at him and scurry back to her apartment and never, ever bother him again, but she felt pinned motionless by his piercing stare. She felt naked and vulnerable, as if he could see inside her and was privy to her every thought. How insane was that?

  Dear Lord, but the man was gorgeous. Mouthwateringly gorgeous. In her wildest fantasies, not that she indulged in many, she could have never conjured such a perfect male specimen. Her knees went positively weak as she took in every aspect of the man standing so rigidly in front of her and committed it to memory. At least she’d have a fantasy to indulge in now. Heck, he would forever be the mother of all fantasies. For the rest of her lifetime, any other man would pale in comparison. There was no comparison. She hadn’t felt this shy and awkward since junior high, and here she was supposed to be a sophisticated urbanite embracing life away from the rolling mountains of East Tennessee.

  Run. Flee. Escape. Before she made an even bigger fool of herself.

  She thrust the pie forward and the man’s eyebrow went upward in surprise. He stared suspiciously at the pie she held and then back up at her, wariness still lurking in the rich green pools that seemed so shadowed.

  She let out an exasperated sigh, barely resisting throwing up her hands in frustration or surrender. Which one, she wasn’t certain of. “Surely you don’t think I poisoned it. It’s just a thank-you. A more personalized thank-you, now that I know it was you and not the manager who was responsible for me renting the apartment next to you.”

  As she spoke, she slipped the small floral card from her pocket, wincing now at how ridiculous it was for her to have done this. But then she should have pondered the folly of her actions before giving in to impulse.

  Then the most amazing thing happened. The man’s expression, which she would have sworn she could crack a brick on and one that seemed likely more permanent than not, actually faltered as his lips moved upward in a semblance of a smile. Amusement replaced the coldness in those mesmerizing eyes, and all she could do was stare dumbfounded as the smile, small as it was, completely transformed his face. Wow, what would a full-on real smile look like on him?

  He took the pie from her and then seemed to be staring at her expectantly. When her brow crinkled in confusion, the amusement in his eyes deepened and his smile grew just a tiny bit more. He had to stop now because if he smiled any more she wouldn’t be able to walk the short distance back to her apartment. For that matter, if she didn’t breathe soon, walking would be the least of her worries.

  “Is the card for me as well?” he asked, his deep voice rumbling from his chest.

  She looked down, having forgotten all about taking it from her pocket. She thrust it toward him as well, her hand trembling slightly. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice, though he struck her as the type who noticed everything.

  “What is this for?” he asked softly, his earlier gruffness fading.

  She relaxed a little. “My name is Hayley. But I guess you know that, unless of course your manager oversees all the paperwork and stuff.”

  Damn it, but she was babbling again, and she never babbled. It was obvious she needed to get out more. Mix with people. Because she’d forgotten how to do something so simple as socialize.

  “Anyway,” she hastened to add before he could respond. “I wanted to bake you something as a thank-you and give you a card. Instead of a note, I mean.” God, she was so lame.

  His lips twitched suspiciously. “You already thanked me. The brownies were delicious. Thank you for making them for me.”

  “I know, but I didn’t realize you lived here at the time and, well, I also didn’t realize it was because of you I had the apartment, so I just wrote a
few words because I was in a hurry, so I thought it was only right that I expressed my gratitude more, or rather properly.”

  To keep the groan of dismay from escaping her suddenly very busy lips, she gestured toward the pie. “You need to refrigerate it so the topping will set. If you try to eat it now, it will be too . . . messy. It will run everywhere. It’s better to leave it refrigerated overnight, but if you absolutely must have some tonight, let it chill for several hours at least.”

  His lips twitched again and she could swear he was trying not to laugh. Then his expression became something else entirely and while she wasn’t at all certain what he was thinking or what his expression meant, it made her feel . . . hunted and wary and yet electrified. Just as quickly his face softened and a glimmer of warmth entered his eyes.

  “I’m Silas,” he said in his deep voice. “Thank you for the pie. I’m sure I’ll love it. I have a sweet tooth but I rarely indulge.”

  Yes, she could certainly surmise that much. The man was extremely fit.

  “It was nice to meet you, Silas,” she said, smiling back at him.

  He went suddenly still, causing her smile to falter. She took a step back without even realizing that she had or why.

  “You have nothing to fear from me, Hayley,” he said quietly. “I will never hurt you.”

  What an odd thing for him to say. But maybe she had been a little frightened for a moment. Stranger still, the way he said it made her believe him, absolutely. Which made her certifiably nuts, since she knew nothing about the man.

  “You’re very talented.”

  Her brow furrowed in confusion at his abrupt change in topic. “I beg your pardon?”

  “You play the violin. I can hear you at night. You’re very talented. I’ve never heard anything so beautiful.”

  She blushed crimson. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea you could hear me. I should never have opened my window. It’s just that the night, the sounds of the night . . . I find them comforting. They make me feel not quite so alone.”

  She closed her eyes in mortification at what she’d just shared with a complete stranger. God, she needed to get back to her apartment so she would shut up and avoid making an even bigger fool of herself.

  “It won’t happen again. I do hope you will forgive me for disturbing you.”

  His expression became fierce then, and she very nearly took yet another step back but was unable to because she was frozen solidly in place. What on earth had she done to upset him?

  “No,” he said sharply. “I didn’t say that because you were disturbing me or to make you stop. I shouldn’t have said anything at all. I enjoy listening to you play. It . . . soothes me, much as the sounds of the city soothe you. And like you, it makes me feel not so alone.”

  His admission seemed painfully wrung from him, as though sharing such a private thought was something he never did. In that moment, she could see a kindred spirit reflected in his eyes. So much loneliness and pain. Sorrow. Regret even.

  “Please, leave your window open while you play,” he asked softly. “If I didn’t want to hear, I would have never opened my own.”

  That startled Hayley. That he’d sought out comfort in her music, that it meant something to him, just as it did to her. An outlet. Not just a creative outlet, but a way to express emotions she kept bottled up. Emotions she could never share with anyone else. There was no one else.

  “Then I’ll keep my window open when I practice,” she promised, her voice as soft as his.

  “Just make certain you always remember to close and lock it at all other times,” he said, in what she thought to be an almost protective-sounding tone.

  She simply nodded, and then, because she could bear the awkwardness, and her powerful awareness of him, no longer, she pointed to the pie.

  “You need to get that into the fridge,” she said in a husky voice. “And I need to get back to my apartment.”

  “It was very nice to meet you, Hayley,” he said, gifting her once more with that small glimmer of a smile. “If there is ever anything you need, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”

  She nodded, trying to find her tongue. “Likewise, Silas. And you’ve already done far more than was necessary for me. Thank you. Perhaps I’ll see you around sometime.”

  There was something in his gaze that made her nape prickle, the tiny soft hairs bristling, causing an itching sensation.

  Before she lost the courage to walk away, she turned and nearly fled back to the door of her apartment, keenly aware that his gaze followed her until she disappeared inside. She swung it closed forcibly and then lunged for it so it didn’t slam loudly, and then she turned her back to it, pressing her body against the wood, closing her eyes as she tried desperately to still the rapid beat of her heart.

  10

  Silas opened his refrigerator and took out the pie Hayley had made him and set it on the bar. He’d done as she asked and let it chill overnight and eaten the first piece the following morning for breakfast. Those who knew him would laugh if they knew he’d eaten dessert for breakfast when he rarely ate anything that wasn’t deemed healthy. He took his body and its care very seriously. But he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation of tasting the gift bestowed on him.

  It had been delicious. Decadent even. Better even than the things Evangeline made for him. He’d waited all day until he returned, deciding to have another piece in his bedroom while he listened to the sweet strains of Hayley’s violin.

  He cut a small piece, placed it on a saucer and then collected a fork and went into his bedroom, knowing that Hayley would begin her practice any moment, and he didn’t want to miss a single minute. Her schedule, like his, was extremely regimented. He knew when she left the apartment and when she returned. Knew her work schedule. He frowned because she worked far too many hours and that, coupled with her classes and her practice time, left her little time to sleep, if any. He had seen the fatigue in her eyes, but he’d seen something else as well that discomfited him. Grief. Something or someone had caused her pain. If he knew the source, he would destroy it. She deserved to be happy and carefree. She was young and yet she seemed to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders.

  He ambled into his bedroom and propped himself against the headboard of his bed, taking the first bite of the delicious caramel pie. He checked his watch, frowning because it was ten minutes past the time she normally began her practice. Then he shook his head. She could have gotten off work a few minutes late, or she might be doing things around her apartment. It was ridiculous, this obsession with her and the fact that he monitored her every movement to the minute.

  He forced his thoughts from the distraction she caused and finished the slice of pie, setting aside the saucer on the nightstand. Still, impatience simmered and tension grated on him. His nightly ritual had become a necessity. A need he couldn’t explain.

  He sat there for a long time, lost in his thoughts, going over the events of the day, the concerns he had about the Vanuccis and his worry that they would strike at Drake or Evangeline. Drake had tripled her security, even going as far as to limit her outings because he lived in terror of something happening to his wife and child. Every man under Drake had the same fear, and they were extra diligent in their protection.

  When he glanced at his watch, he swore, not having realized so much time had passed. It was well beyond the time when Hayley began her practice. Dread gripped his insides but he shoved it away. He was being paranoid.

  But no, Hayley was predictable. She never deviated from her schedule. Never once had she missed a session with her violin. Swearing, he got up and went into the living room, where the security cams were installed. He rewound them to one thirty and skimmed through the footage, looking for a sign that Hayley had returned home.

  Nothing.

  He was overreacting. She could have had to work late. She could be at a friend’s house. Perhaps she even had a lover and was staying over. That brought a scowl to his face, but he quickly discounte
d all of his suppositions.

  Like Silas, Hayley appeared to be a loner. She’d even remarked that she opened her window because the sounds of the city made her feel not so alone. She never had company over, didn’t seem to have friends, and he knew enough about her schedule to know that she didn’t have time for any kind of social life. When she wasn’t in class she worked two jobs to late hours and then she came home and practiced the violin, sometimes not even sleeping and hurriedly leaving for class without ever having gone to bed.

  His gut told him something was wrong, and his gut never steered him wrong. If she was this late, then something had happened. Fear, an alien emotion, gripped and twisted his insides. Where was she?

  He knew the route she took from her late-night job. He knew every route she took, having shadowed her more than once.

  Before he was even cognizant of doing so, he was on his feet, holstering his gun and sheathing his knives as he hurried toward his door. He’d backtrack her route and hope to hell he found her. Alive.

  He took the express elevator that was for his own personal use and slipped into the night, taking the route he knew she never deviated from.

  * * *

  Hayley wearily trudged down the sidewalk, wishing she didn’t still have ten more blocks to walk before she was finally home. It had been a long, frustrating day. First, she’d had another unpleasant run-in with Christopher and once again he’d acted like a spoiled, whiny child clearly used to getting his way in all things. He’d demanded to know where Hayley was living now, as though he had the right to such knowledge. He’d stomped away outside the school, a look of rage mottling his cheeks that concerned Hayley because she had a feeling he was only going to become more persistent the more she resisted his disgusting advances.

  As a result of the ugly encounter, she hadn’t had time to take her violin home and was forced to bring it to work with her, and she was ten minutes late, to the annoyance of her boss, Dan, who was nothing but a lecherous scumbag who thought every woman in his employ was his own personal property, even going as far as to call them “his girls.”

  As punishment, she’d been stuck with doing all of the cleanup at closing while he let the other women go home. Shelly, a girl close to Hayley’s age, had been sympathetic and had offered to remain behind to help, but Hayley had told her to go and not to piss off Dan, or she’d be next on his list and he would retaliate.

  She’d worked as quickly and as efficiently as possible, enabling her to clock out only half an hour late. She snorted and rolled her eyes as she punched her time card, knowing full well she wouldn’t be paid for the extra time. But at least she was done and could head home.

  She didn’t like walking home so late in the night, or rather so early in the morning hours after midnight. But she didn’t really have a choice since there wasn’t a subway or bus line that ran close enough from her job to the apartment. Though the city never truly slept, it was quieter, eerie almost, the shadows from the buildings seeming to loom larger, reaching to enfold her in their embrace. She hugged the violin case closer to her chest and firmly pressed her purse between her elbow and her side even as her gaze constantly darted left and right, seeking any possible threat.

  The walk home in the dark didn’t usually bother her this much. She wasn’t sure why she seemed so unsettled tonight. But then she had endured a less-than-stellar day, so perhaps her paranoia was merely the resulting fallout from having confrontations with two assholes.

  She relaxed when she was five blocks from her apartment building and picked up her pace, despite the fatigue beating incessantly at her. Maybe tonight she’d forgo her practice session and get in a few hours of sleep, which she desperately needed. She was so lost in the fantasy of catching up on her sleep that she never heard anyone until it was too late.

  Strong arms hauled her back against one of the stone buildings and out of the glare cast by one of the streetlights. When she started to scream, a hand clamped over her mouth and she gagged at the horrible smell and taste of the filthy palm.

  “Keep quiet, bitch,” her attacker growled in her ear.

  “Ohh, we got us a nice little piece tonight,” a second man said in amusement.

  Her heart sank when she realized not one, but three men were preventing her escape. She stood little chance against one, much less three of the street thugs.

  Her purse was yanked roughly from her shoulder and one of the men rifled through it, rage mottling his features when he turned it upside down, shaking the contents onto the street.

  “Where’s your money, whore?” demanded the man whose arm was now firmly around her throat, nearly cutting off her air.

  Tears burned her eyelids. “I don’t have any,” she choked out. “Do I look like I have money?”

  “A sweet piece like you?” the third man hooted. “If you don’t have money, then you sure as hell have a sugar daddy who does.”

  “Go to hell,” she yelled.

  Pain exploded in her face as the one who’d rifled through her purse brutally backhanded her. She could taste blood in her mouth where her lip had split. Warm liquid slithered from her nose, over her lips and to her chin, dripping to the street.

  “What have we here?” the third said silkily, wrenching the violin case from her grasp.

  “No, please,” she begged. “It’s my violin. I’m a musician. I have to have it to play.”

  He opened the case and then swung the violin against the stone wall, laughing when it shattered into pieces. Tears flowed freely and a sense of helplessness and keen grief overwhelmed her. Her violin was all she had left from her father. Without it she couldn’t attend school. Couldn’t pursue her dream. Couldn’t play the music that was so much a part of who she was.

  Her head lowered, bowing as tears splattered the ground at her feet, mixing with the blood dripping from her mouth and nose.

  “I don’t have anything else,” she whispered. “I have nothing. Please, just let me go.”

  The man tightened his arm around her neck until her vision blurred and spots appeared. “Seems to me if you don’t have anything of value for us, then we’ll have to make do in other ways,” he said in a sickening voice that sent chills cascading down her spine.

  His hand drifted down her neck to her breasts, roughly fondling them through the thin shirt she wore. Impatient with the barrier, he ripped the shirt and then
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