Mastered, p.7
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       Mastered, p.7
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         Part #1 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks

  simple question, one that could either be answered or not.

  Her eyes narrowed, telling him without words that she definitely hadn’t missed the hint of command in his tone.

  “Why are you working in that place night after night, running yourself into the ground, to complete exhaustion? Where men touch you, put their hands on you and God only knows what else,” he growled.

  He was becoming more pissed by the minute, and he was seething as he stared at her. The idea of those bastards putting their hands on what he’d already claimed, fondling her, disrespecting her, had his teeth on edge, and his temper, already bad enough, was fast becoming overwhelmingly foul.

  “It’s not that bad,” she said, immediately becoming defensive.

  “Bullshit,” he barked, startling her with his vehemence. “I had men in the bar all night. They saw exactly the kind of shit you endure on a nightly basis. Remember the asshole who wouldn’t take no for an answer when you oh-so-politely told him to get fucked?”

  She blushed. “I didn’t say any such thing.”

  “No, but you should have. Remember the man who intervened when it could have gotten ugly? And, Angel, it would have gotten ugly very fast were it not for my man. The one who gave you a hundred-dollar tip? He was one of mine. Now think about it for a minute. Did anyone else there offer to help you? What if my men hadn’t been there?”

  Humiliation flashed in her eyes and she turned her head sideways in an attempt to hide her reaction from him. But he caught the flash of tears and it nearly ripped his insides out.

  “I’ll give it back,” she whispered. “I had no idea it was a setup. I didn’t earn that. I refuse to take pity money.”

  He flinched at the look in her eyes, the evident blow to her pride, the one thing she held fast to when it appeared she had nothing else. Damn it. That was not what he wanted.

  She dug into her pocket, several twenties and smaller bills falling out as she yanked. She retrieved the folded hundred-dollar bill and thrust it at him as if she couldn’t bear to touch it a second longer.

  “I don’t want it. I won’t take it,” she said, revulsion twisting her lips until he wanted to kiss them back to the sweet, luscious state they had been in mere seconds before.

  Drake swore, making her wince. Then he collected all of the scattered bills, folded them carefully and stuffed them back into her pocket.

  “My men were there at my order to check the place out as a potential investment. It’s for sale, or did you not know that?”

  Her eyes widened in surprise. “No. I had no idea. What does that mean? Am I going to lose my job? Oh my God, Drake, what am I going to do? I know it doesn’t look like much, but the tips are good, and I make more money working there than I did working two jobs back home.”

  The fear in her eyes was very nearly his undoing. The thought of her working two jobs made him want to smash something. He was sure her tips were very good. Far more than the average waitress working there. Hell, on a good night, she probably pulled in as much as his girls did in his club. With that inherent innocence and bone-deep sweetness? A smile that lit up a city block? The fact that she was so fucking . . . nice? And that wasn’t even taking into account her looks. Those big blue eyes, the long silken mass of hair that made a man itch to run his hands through it, and that ass. God, that ass. Delectable. Plump. Just enough jiggle when she walked to make a man lose his mind. And her tits. Fuck, he could recite all her good qualities all night and never get to the end. She was the total package, and when men looked at her, they did a double take, especially after talking to her for just a few minutes, because they were all wondering how the hell such a perfect woman existed. And then they set their sights on how to get next to her. In her bed, between her legs, and how to stay there, because who the fuck—other than her dumb-ass ex-boyfriend—would be stupid enough to ever let her go once he’d had a taste of all she offered?

  Jesus, he had to stop because she was staring at him oddly, obviously waiting for him to say whatever he had been about to say next, and he was too busy extolling her virtues and mentally covering her with NO TRESPASSING signs because he was staking his claim and he’d kill the man who tried to take what was his.

  “You’re missing my point,” he said as patiently as he was able when he wanted to smash something, dispense with the niceties and drag her home and keep her there under lock and key. “Only Maddox knew about you, and he remained outside so you wouldn’t see him and bolt. Whatever tip my man gave you was because he wanted to and felt you earned it. He had no idea you belong to me.”

  “What?”

  “I’ll ask you a third time, and Evangeline, I am not used to having to ask more than once. Ever. Why the hell are you working yourself to death in a place like that? Subjecting yourself to that kind of treatment from men who have no respect for you and treat you like an object. Who harass you, put their hands on you and disrespect you on a nightly basis.”

  She sighed, closing her eyes, but not before a single tear slipped down one pale cheek.

  “I have to have that job,” she choked out. “I’m not from here, the city I mean. As I’m sure you can tell. I come from a small town in the south. I’ve had to work my entire life. I had to drop out of high school and get my GED so I could work. College wasn’t an option.”

  “Why?” he asked softly.

  She went on as if she hadn’t heard.

  “My father worked in a local factory and was injured and disabled as a result. Workman’s comp refused to pay, citing some ridiculous, trumped-up loophole that I still don’t understand. But he couldn’t work as a result. My mother also has health issues. My father was our only means of support. I could have gone to college,” she said wistfully. “I was a good student. I qualified for an academic scholarship to a state university, before I had to drop out. But Mama and Papa needed me.”

  Drake’s lips tightened as some of the pieces fell into place. It was suddenly making a lot more sense than it had a few minutes earlier.

  “I was working two jobs at home and they were barely making it,” she said, shame shadowing her gaze.

  Most notably absent from her statement was how she had made it, because he already knew enough about her present circumstances to know that she would have given every penny to her parents, only keeping enough for her bare necessities. And they were very bare.

  “Steph, one of my current roommates—she and my other roommates, we all went to high school together and we stayed in touch. They moved to the city. They wanted out of our small town. Wanted bigger and better. I don’t blame them. But I had a responsibility,” she said, her chin notching upward, fire entering her eyes. “My family is my only responsibility—my priority before all else. I will not fail them.

  “Anyway, she called me and said they were a roommate short and they could get me a job making better money, good tips, and they had a small apartment that wouldn’t break the bank with my share of the rent. So I moved up here and I send money back to my parents every week. I pay my portion of the rent, utilities and groceries, but every spare penny goes to my mother so she can care for my father.”

  Drake was growing angrier by the minute. His entire jaw ached because it was clamped shut against the tirade that was just waiting to be unleashed. He wanted to end this farce immediately and take over, but he needed to know what he was up against. Every single detail.

  “When I can, I take extra shifts,” she explained. “If I’m lucky, during the holidays, I can get seasonal part-time work, which enables me to send all of that extra to my mom.”

  “And in the meantime you work yourself to the bone. You go without. You put yourself in unimaginable danger, not to mention work a demeaning job where men assume your body is theirs to do with as they please.”

  Her gaze flew upward at the whiplike anger in his tone, and genuine puzzlement shone in her beautiful eyes.

  “This shit is over,” he bit out. “You need a keeper. Someone to take care of you for once in your life
. You’re moving in with me. You’re finished working yourself to death in a place where men put their hands on you, maul you, say shit to you no man should ever say to another woman. Furthermore, your parents will have no financial worries any longer. And neither will you.”

  Her mouth gaped open and her gaze turned incredulous as she stared back at him as if to determine whether he was serious. He returned her gaze unflinchingly, telling her without words that he was serious as a heart attack.

  “Are you crazy?” she shouted. “You can’t just tell me I’m moving in with you like it’s a foregone conclusion.”

  “It is,” he said calmly.

  “The hell it is! You’re . . . you’re out of your mind!” she sputtered, throwing her hands up like she wanted to yank her hair out with frustration. Then she shook her head adamantly. “You can’t just keep me prisoner!”

  He smiled and responded in a lazy drawl. “Can’t I? But, Angel, I can assure you, as far as prisoners go? There will never exist a more pampered, spoiled and indulged captive. And I can guarantee you won’t be trying to escape after you’ve had a taste of all I can give you. And just a warning, Angel. I give a lot. Everything. But I take every bit as much as I give.”

  “This is crazy,” she whispered. “What exactly do I tell my friends? My girls? My family? I can’t just disappear off the face of the earth. They’ll go crazy. And I can’t leave my roommates hanging. They can’t afford the apartment without my share of the rent. I don’t make much, but neither do they and it’s a stretch to afford a two-bedroom even between four people.”

  “Your girls will be taken care of. Their rent will be paid so your absence won’t cause them any hardship.”

  Her lips drew into a mutinous line. “No. I won’t let you do that. You can’t buy me. Or my friends. You aren’t paying me for sex. God, that would make me a whore! A prostitute. How could I look at myself in the mirror every morning knowing I’m some man’s plaything. A paid plaything.”

  He was getting pissed, and he made no effort to hide that from her. “I’m not paying for sex. I don’t ever have to pay for sex. What I give to you, whatever I choose to give to you, are gifts. Gifts I expect you to accept and think of creative ways of expressing your gratitude. You’re mine for as long as our arrangement lasts, and that puts your girls in a bind. And I’m responsible for that bind because I’m a selfish bastard who takes what he wants and won’t accept no for an answer. So I’ll cover their rent because me being selfish puts them in a bind, and I won’t be responsible for three women losing their home because of my demands.”

  “Oh,” she said softly. Then she shook her head. “This is insane. This sort of thing doesn’t happen.”

  “In my world it does,” he said, amusement in his voice.

  “There is only one world,” she snapped. “And we all live in the same world.”

  “And that is where I intend to prove you wrong, Angel. My world, my rules. I answer to no one, and no one fucks with me or what’s mine.”

  “And is that what I am? Yours?”

  “For the time being? Yes.”

  She looked instantly uneasy, her eyes worried and apprehensive.

  “And what happens to me when you figure out I’m not all that and you don’t want me anymore?” she asked quietly.

  “You will always be taken care of, Angel. I’m not a complete bastard. If the day comes that we no longer are compatible, then you will be taken care of for the rest of your life. You needn’t have any concerns that I’ll cast you off and leave you to fend for yourself. That will never happen. You have my word on it.”

  Drake reached up to take one of her hands and gently pulled it down until it was completely encircled in his.

  “You’re a beautiful woman who deserves far more than what you’re getting out of life, and I’m going to make you see that, no matter how long it takes. You’re a woman any man would be on his knees to have. And you’re as attracted to me as I’m attracted to you. I didn’t imagine you coming all over my mouth last night.”

  Her face went beet red and she hastily averted her gaze, but he reached with his free hand to cup her chin, gently forcing her to face him once more.

  “You were so fucking beautiful and so wild, and I want to be the man who gently brings you to heel. I want to be the man who takes care of you, the man you ultimately answer to, the man who controls you.”

  “Controls?” she asked incredulously. “Do you even know how obscene that sounds? No one controls me!”

  “I do—I will. But you’ll blossom under my care. Have no doubt there. There will not be a more spoiled, adored woman on this earth, because what is mine I take care of in all ways, and your happiness, your protection, your life comes before all else.”

  She looked at him in utter bewilderment. “Why would you do this for a woman like me? You could have any woman you wanted.”

  She broke off, blushing furiously, her eyes dropping in shame and God only knew what else. Fury rose inside him, and he was forced to loosen his grip on her hand or risk hurting her.

  “Explain what you mean by a woman like you. And be careful how you word it, Angel, and how you say it, or I’m not going to be very happy with you.”

  She swept her hand down the length of her as if that explained it all. Then she sent him a helpless look that suggested she had no idea how to explain what in her mind was a very obvious fact.

  “You have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed,” he said through clenched teeth. “And you will be neither with me, because that will not please me. Who you are, what you are, is what I want. Not your fucked-up idea of who and what I want. I know when I see something whether I want it or not, and I wanted you the minute you walked into my club. Your not believing me or thinking otherwise is bullshit. But you’ll figure that out in your own time.”

  “There’s no way I can ever pay you back,” she said desperately. “I’ll never be your equal. I’ll never be able to pay back the kind of money you’re talking about.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong,” he said in a soft voice that made her shiver.

  In that moment, she looked very much like prey being stalked, and he was the predator closing in on his prey. Hunted. He could deny none of those things when that was well what he was doing.

  “Nothing is ever free,” he continued, taking advantage of her momentary silence as she grappled with the things he had said and was saying. “The price is you. All of you. I’ll own you. Every inch of you. I’m a man who is always in control of everything in my world. My world, my rules. And you have to play by my rules. I especially demand control when it comes to the women in my bed. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

  “N-no,” she stammered out, clearly not understanding.

  He swore softly. “Such a fucking innocent.”

  For a moment he simply trailed a finger down the line of her cheek and then brushed the pad of his thumb over the full curve of her lips. He could feel the sudden exhalation of her breaths as they sped up and the trembling increased. But it wasn’t fear. She was aroused.

  “Dominance, Angel. And your submission. Your complete and utter submission. In all things, but especially in my bed. You don’t deny me anything. What I want, I take. What I choose to give, I give. You don’t have a choice, and you don’t get to tell me no. Ever.”

  “You’re talking about rape!” she said in a horrified voice. “About taking my choices completely away from me!”

  Drake scowled, allowing her to see how angry her response made him.

  “Now you’re just pissing me off. You’ll be willing. I guarantee you’ll love every single thing I choose to do to you. You’ll beg me for more. You won’t even think about saying no. When you step into my world, I own you. I possess you. There isn’t a single inch of your beautiful skin that will go untouched, unworshipped. No part of you I won’t fuck. You went up in flames on my desk, all laid out like a gift, and never once did you say no. You lit up the minute I touched you. You were wild,
uninhibited, and you held nothing back.”

  Her eyes became dull, shame and embarrassment crowding into their depths.

  “Goddamn it, Angel. You will not be ashamed of anything that occurred between you and me. Ever. You will not take something that fucking beautiful and twist it into something shameful and ugly.

  “That motherfucker who did a number on you and made you feel like you were nothing was a fucking idiot. He had something that men would kill for and he pissed it away. He’s an inept bastard who wouldn’t know what to do with a woman. He’s the inferior fuckwad and he knows it, so he lashes out to make himself more than the fucking coward he is. He gets off on belittling others so he can feel better about himself. He knows he’s a piece of shit and the only way he can deal with that knowledge is to knock down everyone around him, especially women. It’s a high to him because it’s the only time he feels like anything other than the worthless piece of shit he and the rest of the world knows he is.”

  Evangeline’s look turned to one of absolute wonder, her eyes filling with something that made Drake uncomfortable. She looked at him like he was some fucking hero, and that made him wince. He wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t a good man. He was a selfish bastard willing to go to any lengths to make this woman his.

  “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.

  Drake inhaled, realizing he was about to do something he never did.

  Ask.

  “Give me a chance, Angel,” he murmured. “Give me the chance to prove to you all I’ve said. To do all I’ve said I will do. Will you at least agree to give me a chance?”

  She studied him for a long moment, clear indecision warring with hope, fear and . . . curiosity. Finally, she closed her eyes, but when they reopened, resolve shone like a beacon.

  “Yes,” she replied softly. “I think I must be crazy, but yes. I’ll give you a chance.”

  “Us,” he corrected. “You’re giving us a chance.”

  But there was still an air of hesitancy about her, as if she regretted her impulsive response, and Drake knew he had to get her out of here and to his apartment fast.

  Before she came to her senses and ran like hell.

  Drake was no fool, nor did he feel an ounce of remorse for hustling Evangeline out of Impulse and into his waiting car before she had time to second-guess her hesitant acquiescence. He had also issued a sharp command to his driver to get them to his apartment building with no delay, an order Brady immediately complied with, and to Drake’s immense satisfaction, the car pulled to the front of the skyscraper housing his penthouse apartment in record time.

  Evangeline had sat beside him, motionless and quiet, seemingly frozen in place. Her eyes were wide, almost as if she were struggling to take it all in. Or perhaps she was just coming to grips with the enormity of her decision. Not that he’d given her much in the way of an option. His request was hardly worded as one.

  But again, he hadn’t become successful in business—or in personal matters—by hesitating when an opportunity presented itself. When—not if—Evangeline gathered her shaken senses, he wanted it to be on his turf. Where she couldn’t run from him. No escape. He couldn’t very well pull out every weapon of persuasion in his arsenal if he was persuading thin air. Which was where she would have vanished if he hadn’t taken swift advantage of her shock and momentary loss of her wits.

  If that made him a bastard . . . Well, he’d certainly been called—and for that matter, was—a hell of a lot worse. In the end, what mattered was that he got what he wanted.

  Evangeline. Angel. His angel.

  In his apartment. His bed. Under his firm hand and protection. For as long as he wished her to be there.

  For the first time, he hadn’t already put a finite time on a liaison. Hell, he wasn’t even considering this anything so casual. The days of one-night stands, or even the occasional weekend when he kept the same woman and sated his desires until Monday morning when his workweek began, and the rare weekend he took off, were over.

  All he knew was that she was here. With him. About to enter his home. A place he never took a woman—any woman—and he had no intention of letting her go any time soon.

  He frowned, uncertain of what to make of that particular revelation. For the time being, he shoved it firmly away and compartmentalized it in his mind to reflect on later. Much later. After Evangeline was taken care of and the matter of their relationship settled.

  He opened the door, reaching for Evangeline’s hand, even knowing she couldn’t open the opposing door into the street. She didn’t resist when he stepped onto the sidewalk, carefully pulling her with him. He anchored his arm around her waist as she too stepped from the car, and he ushered her quickly to the entrance and into the lobby where the elevator doors had already been opened by the doorman who worked the night shift.

  The doorman courteously extended his arm toward the inside of the elevator and murmured a respectful, “Good night, Mr. Donovan.” But Drake didn’t miss the quick lift of one eyebrow as the doorman’s gaze swept over Evangeline huddled against Drake.

  Drake sent him an icy look that had the man retreating as Drake inserted his key card for his floor. He was well aware of the doorman’s surprise, given that Drake never brought women to his home, but the man should have had more discipline than to allow his thoughts to be broadcast through his body language.

  As the elevator began its ascent, Evangeline wobbled slightly against him, and he silently cursed those damn shoes he’d been forced to put back on her swollen feet. Then he simply bent and wrapped his fingers around one delicate ankle, ignoring her gasp of surprise as he lifted first one foot to remove the offending heel and then the other. She was forced to hold on to his arm to maintain her balance.

  When she reached to take them, he simply shoved them underneath his other arm before once more curling his free arm around her waist, solidly anchoring her back to him.

  “You won’t be working in these again,” he said bluntly. “You won’t be working at all. The only time you’ll be wearing heels is if you’re out with me or I want to fuck you in them.”

  She stiffened and her eyes sparked when she tilted her head up so their gazes met. She opened her mouth but the elevator stopped, the doors opening immediately, and Drake took advantage by pulling her forward and into his foyer.

  They had walked only a few steps when Evangeline abruptly halted. He glanced down, bracing for the inevitable protest, the regaining of her senses, or perhaps she’d finally figured out exactly what she wanted to say but had been too overwhelmed to do so before. But she merely stared wide-eyed, not at him. She wasn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention.

 
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