Dirty wicked, p.1
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       Dirty Wicked, p.1
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         Part #11.5 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
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  Chapter One

  Lafayette, Louisiana

  Nick Navarro had been out of prison exactly thirty-five hours. Long enough to get a good night’s sleep, stock up on a few necessities, and visit his old friends, the Santiago brothers. Then he’d started putting his P.I. skills to good use, methodically searching for the woman he hadn’t forgotten a single detail about during the fifteen months of his incarceration.

  He intended to hunt down the bastards who had framed him and offed his childhood friend so he could repay them in spades.

  Sasha Porter was the key.

  At first glance, it looked as if she had disappeared off the face of the earth. She’d fled her house, quit her job, abandoned her car, maybe even changed her name. But his gut told him she was still alive. She had reasons to fight.

  He would burn down the world until he found her.

  Nick was forcing himself not to pace manically when his doorbell rang, sounding above the din of pounding rain. He zipped his gaze to the clock. Quarter ’til midnight. Obviously this wasn’t a social call. Had his late buddy’s enemy gotten wind of him shaking the trees for Sasha? Or had that corrupt son of a bitch just come back for another pound of flesh?

  With every light in the living room on, Nick couldn’t pretend he wasn’t home. Besides, he refused to let this asshole think he was afraid. So he drew his weapon and jerked the door open, wearing a snarl.

  Nick expected trouble, a gunfight, a battle for his life. Instead, Sasha Porter stood under his little portico, clinging near the door to avoid the deluge of November rain. Without a coat, she shivered. An exhausted little girl slept on her hip under a baby blanket, blond curls askew. A ragged duffel bag hung over her other arm. Rain had seeped through Sasha’s tattered blouse. Water ran down her cheek, which was marred with an unmistakable bruise. Dark circles discolored the skin under her hazel eyes, now wide with fear as she stared at his SIG. Cursing, Nick scrambled to holster his weapon.

  This wasn’t the woman he remembered, and she wore the struggle for her survival all over her delicate face. The sight made Nick seethe, but he managed to blank his expression and open the door wider.

  “Hi, Mr. Navarro, we met once about three years ago. You probably don’t remember me…” She drifted off nervously.

  He ached to show her how wrong she was. Instead, he scanned her body. She’d lost weight, lost curves. He’d fix that. But as she had the first time he laid eyes on her, she incited a roaring lust in his blood that electrified every muscle, pore, and nerve ending. He didn’t just want this woman; having her felt necessary to his sanity. It didn’t matter that her honey hair straggled out of half a ponytail or that she wasn’t wearing a shred of makeup. Baggy jeans, plaid shirt…whatever. Sasha stood here in all her goodness. Despite everything she’d been through, radiance shone from her eyes. The brightest of angels tempting the devil himself.

  Then he remembered she was his childhood friend’s beloved widow. He killed his smile.

  “Mike Porter was my husband.” Her voice still shook. “You visited our house once. I’m—”

  “Sasha,” he assured, determined not to frighten her. “Come in.”

  * * * *

  Blinking at Nick Navarro in surprise, Sasha inched inside his surprisingly posh house, hyperaware that she was dripping on his travertine floors. “You remember me?”

  “I never forget a face.” He shut and locked the door behind her.

  Because he’d once been a private investigator? She stared but his unreadable expression cloaked his thoughts.

  Her late husband had called Nick a great friend…and a very dangerous man. Mike had made her promise to come to Nick if she ever needed help. Sasha was having second thoughts now.

  Merely dangerous men could be reasoned with. Even they had limits. Staring at the six-foot-three mountain of muscle who holstered a gun he clearly wasn’t afraid to use, she feared no one could reason with Nick Navarro.

  Dangerous seemed far too tame to describe him. It wasn’t just the harsh shave of his black hair down to mere stubble or the glimpse of new ink flirting with the edge of his gray V-neck. The T-shirt pulled across his chest and bunched around his thick biceps as if it strained to contain him. It molded so closely to his abs that Sasha could see his six-pack. Dark jeans cupped his bulge and tore a disreputable snag down his thigh. His black leather boots belonged on a biker.

  Sasha swallowed.

  Like the first time she’d met him, the air around him pinged with life. And violence. His conviction for rape certainly didn’t give her a warm fuzzy.

  The closer he came on silent footsteps, the more wildly her heart beat. Every speech she’d rehearsed seemed silly now. God, would begging for his help even do any good?

  Without it, she and her baby would probably be dead tomorrow, certainly within a week. She prayed Nick’s hatred of their common enemy was enough to persuade him to help her. She hoped Nick Navarro had a good side she could appeal to.

  But she wasn’t counting on it.

  When he reached for her, Sasha stiffened. If he noticed her reaction, he said nothing. He merely lifted the heavy duffel bag from her drooping shoulder and slid it to the ground.

  “You look tired, hungry, and cold.” His dark gaze drifted over Harper. “You can’t carry your daughter all night.”

  His words surprised her. Why wasn’t he demanding to know the reason she’d rung his doorbell so late? Or why she’d come at all?

  She wished she had the luxury of telling him that she and her baby would be fine, like she’d been saying to people since Mike’s murder. But she couldn’t afford polite lies anymore. Nick Navarro was her very last hope.

  God help her.

  “I’ll be fine. But Harper has been sick. If you have a blanket she could curl up with while we talk, I’d appreciate—”

  As if on cue, the girl coughed, raspy and deep. Between one fit and the next, she drew rattling breaths into troubled lungs.

  “She needs a bed, Sasha. I have four in this house. Pick one and put her down.” When she hesitated, he towered above her, eyes narrowed. “She needs sleep and a doctor. You need help. That’s why you came, isn’t it?”

  It took everything Sasha had to stand her ground and nod.

  “Do you have any clean clothes in there for her?” He gestured to the duffel.


  “I’ll take care of it. The bedrooms are down the hall. When she’s settled, come back and tell me what you’re after.”

  Without another word, Nick turned his back, pulled out his cell phone, hit a few buttons, and paced out of the cavernous foyer. Who was he calling at dang near midnight? He hadn’t reacted at all like she’d expected when she’d rung his doorbell. But she couldn’t worry about him now. Harper needed her.

  Sasha dragged herself out of the foyer and down the long hall, until she came to the first bedroom. Airy, with two twin beds—she could tell that much in the dark.

  Flipping on the light, she saw two plain beige comforters with soft white sheets. Nothing frilly. But a real bed would be a blessing for her baby. It had been so long since she’d slept in one, and this looked like heaven.

  Stopping, resting, indulging—Sasha couldn’t for long if they wanted to live.

  As she eased off Harper’s clothes, the poor girl barely moved. Across the hall, Sasha found a powder bath and coaxed the little girl awake long enough to use the potty.

  Naked except for Barbie underwear, Sasha tucked her daughter into bed. Harper sighed as her head hit the pillow and she fell back asleep. A fever heated the child’s brow. For over a week, Harper had been ill. It was getting worse. But she had no money, almost no medicine left. She feared going to a hospital and filling out paperwork w
ould be like drawing a map of their location for the lethal man chasing them.

  Fighting tears of exhaustion and worry, she kissed her daughter’s cherubic face, pushing the pale hair from her forehead, praying a good night’s rest would help cure her.

  “Is she asleep?” Nick asked in low tones.

  Sasha turned at the unexpected sound of his voice. He filled the doorframe completely, looking as solid and as massive as the door he replaced. She shivered.

  “Yes. Thank you.”

  “She’ll have new clothes tomorrow morning, size three-T. Everything in the duffel is in the washer now. A pediatrician will be here at nine.”

  Again, he’d surprised her. Kindness? “I promise, we’ll get out of your hair immediately after the doctor leaves. And I’ll pay you back as soon as I’m able. I just came to see you about—”

  Three electronic beeps resounding through the house startled her. Nick dragged his rough gaze down her body. At his inspection, Sasha shivered. She had no idea what he was thinking.

  “Come with me.” Without waiting for her response, he turned and left down the hall.

  Sasha hesitated.

  He paused without turning back. “You came to talk to me about something. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

  Dread and anxiety settled in her stomach. But she had no choice. With a backward glance at her sleeping daughter, she followed.

  At the end of the hall and to the left, she crossed the foyer again, then passed under an archway. A thoroughly modern kitchen awaited on the other side. Hardwood floors and concrete countertops gleamed under recessed lighting, as did the dark, contemporary cabinets. A stainless refrigerator stood in one corner, perfectly matching the oven and microwave, which beeped again.

  “Bobby Flay, I’m not,” he said, yanking open the microwave door and pulling out two pieces of pepperoni pizza. “Sit.”

  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had anything resembling a full belly, and this smelled scrumptious. Her stomach rumbled.

  He set the slices in front of her, along with a napkin. “Eat.”

  Sasha frowned at the plate. Nick meant to feed her? “For me?”

  “Yeah.” He gave her a self-deprecating smile as he put a can of beer in front of her. “I only have necessities here right now. Sorry.”

  “Beer and pizza?”

  “Damn straight.”

  His reply seemed so…typical guy. So unlike the violent rapist his trial had painted him to be. She hid her surprise behind her napkin. Just who was she dealing with?

  “Look, I appreciate the bed, the medical attention for Harper, and the food—”

  “I’m not listening to you until you’ve swallowed every last bite of that. Chow down.”

  Sasha didn’t have to be told twice. She devoured the pizza, conscious of Nick watching her every move with dark, intent eyes. What the heck was he thinking when he looked at her that way?

  If they’d been in a different situation, she would have been ridiculously attracted to him. He had a rugged face dusted with dark stubble and bold male features. His mouth was a wide slash of full lips that looked totally equipped to provide hours of sin. That, coupled with his air of mystery, screamed danger. Not that he’d be interested in her. She hardly possessed the centerfold beauty he’d once been used to, according to Mike. She was completely safe. In fact, the way she looked now, he wouldn’t touch her, even if she were the last female on earth.

  It didn’t matter. Sasha had stopped caring about superficial stuff long ago. And however tempting he looked on the outside, Nick Navarro’s blood was ice, according to his rape victim’s testimony. Even at his trial, he’d never said a word in his defense, simply accepted his conviction with a blank stare.

  Sasha again questioned the wisdom of putting herself in his path. If Mike hadn’t been murdered, she would have been a suburban soccer mom—not homeless and broke and running for her life, sleeping with one eye open to make sure her daughter stayed safe. Not at the mercy of a man society labeled a violent offender. But he knew how to play hardball with the people who threatened her and Harper. He alone knew how to end this nightmare.

  Damn it, if only she had some bargaining chip to offer him…

  Once her plate was empty, he set it in the stainless steel sink. Cautiously, Sasha sipped her beer, observing his crisp, watchful movements.

  “Thank you for the food. I was hungry,” she admitted.

  “Has your daughter eaten?”

  Sasha nodded. “We stopped at a diner down the road a while ago.”

  “And you didn’t eat.”

  He didn’t ask; he knew.

  Sasha paused. She didn’t want to voice the truth, but lying to him seemed counterproductive when she wanted his help. “I didn’t have enough money for both of us to eat.”

  “Then you walked here in the rain?”


  “Carrying her?”

  The edge of censure in his tone frustrated her. “I didn’t have any other options.”

  At her confession, he sat back in his chair. “And now you’re going to tell me why you’re here and how you came to be in this state.”

  It was a command as much as a question. Sasha took a deep breath and tried to remember the words she’d rehearsed. “You probably don’t recall, but when you visited Mike at our house, Harper was a newborn.”

  “I remember.”

  Did he really? “About a year later, Mike’s behavior changed. He turned anxious, secretive. For months, I didn’t know he’d fallen into dicey political waters at work. He never gave me details, but I gathered his difficulty had something to do with his boss, Walter Clifford, the Orleans Parish district attorney. Then I overheard Mike talking to you on the phone a few weeks before…” She didn’t want to finish that sentence and relive her husband’s death again. “He told you that Clifford was dirty.”

  “As sin. He’s responsible for Mike’s murder.”

  “I know. Apparently, the man suspects Mike left behind some evidence that proves his corruption. In the last fifteen months, I’ve tried to figure out where he might have hidden it, to no avail. But I knew my husband. If he’d been about to blow a whistle, he had solid proof.”

  “Meanwhile, Clifford has had thugs and hit men chasing you, right? He’s told you to hand your evidence over or he’s going to turn you into fish bait.”

  “Harper first.” Her voice broke. “If I don’t produce the proof three days after her murder, then me.”

  Something terrible flickered across Nick’s face quickly, then it was gone. Sasha couldn’t decipher the expression, but resisted the urge to back away from him.

  “Why do you assume I’m any better than Clifford?”

  Sasha’s heart stopped. Why had she? “I—I just thought…”

  “That since Mike was my childhood friend, I’d want vengeance for him? That I’d help you out of the goodness of my heart?” He shrugged. “C’mon, I knew Porter well. He told you to steer clear of me unless it was a dire emergency. But you assumed that since I’m a convicted rapist, I didn’t have many boundaries to cross, and murder wouldn’t bother me. How do you know I have a conscience at all? How do you know I can’t be bought by the other side?”

  Had she been so desperate, so sure Mike would have steered her in the right direction, that she’d rationalized the very real risks of coming here?

  Yes, and obviously she’d been naïve. She had to leave now.

  Darting to her feet, Sasha charged out of the kitchen and to the hall. Harper. She had to reach her little girl, pluck her out of bed, and escape—somehow—before Nick Navarro stopped her. Would he turn her over to the people wanting to kill her baby? Or did he have some nefarious plan of his own?

  In seconds, she heard pounding footsteps hunting her from behind. Oh, God. Oh, God! He was going to catch her before she and Harper could escape.

  Suddenly, he clamped hard fingers around her wrist and yanked her around to face him. She nearly tripped and fell. Nick stoppe
d her by bracing her against the solid width of his chest.

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