Falling in deeper, p.11
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       Falling in Deeper, p.11
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  I’m guessing he didn’t want child protective services coming to get her. I’m sure he didn’t like jail, either. For whatever reason, he gave the police information about Canton’s operations. They dragged the scum in for questioning but could never prove anything, so he got off. While my bestie’s big brother was trying to lie low, Canton decided he’d make an example of Corey’s family.” Wringing her hands, she paused, shutting her eyes as she gathered her fortitude. “He and some of his thugs raped and killed Erin.”

  “A fifteen-year-old girl?” Motherfucker. Stone had known that, but hearing the anguish in her voice somehow made it more real. “And you saw?”

  She nodded, tears pooling in her eyes. “Yeah. He did it simply because Corey was trying to be brave and escape his life of crime.”

  “Canton knows you saw the incident?”


  “He let you go afterward?”

  She hesitated. “Yes.”

  Her answer didn’t make sense.

  “Why?” Stone scowled and tried to dissect her with a glance.

  When Lily shrugged and bowed her head, unable to look at him, it confirmed his instincts and made his guts clench. He needed to keep digging.

  “Why would a careful bastard like Canton let someone who could both identify him and turn witness walk free after a crime so heinous?”

  “I-I don’t know.”

  Stone didn’t believe her for an instant. “I’m not stupid. Try again.”

  “I guess Canton wanted me to tell Corey everything that happened so that he’d know better than to testify.”

  Maybe, but that still sounded off. “Why didn’t Canton just kill Corey? Why would he leave you to tell the guy and potentially create another enemy?”

  “I don’t know why Canton didn’t just off him. I can’t read his mind. Maybe because no one could find Corey.”

  “No one? Not even you?”

  Lily shook her head. “I never saw or heard from him again.”

  “So you never had the chance to tell Corey what happened to his sister?”


  Stone heard a wealth of guilt in that one word. She’d been tearing herself up about this for years. Because she hadn’t been able to save Erin Gutierrez? Because Lily had survived and her friend hadn’t? “Did you tell the police anything after you witnessed your friend’s murder?”

  “I wanted to, but I didn’t dare.” Lily had gone ghostly white and he sensed her terror, even after all these years. “But somehow, the cops found out I saw or knew something. They dragged me in and asked me a lot of questions.” She stopped and wrapped her arms around her middle, staring resolutely at the far wall and looking so fragile. “I can’t talk about this anymore right now.”

  Stone studied her and scrubbed a hand over his chin. He suspected this was when Canton had killed her mother and little brother. As badly as he wanted to press her for details, Stone feared she would break. What she’d endured had been a lot for anyone to handle, much less a child. “We’ll leave it here for now.”

  She closed her eyes wearily. “I’m even scared to talk about it. When I was a teenager, Canton had eyes and ears all over the neighborhood. Just like then, I’m afraid he’s lurking around a corner now, waiting to kill me. For the past few days, I’d been feeling as if someone was watching me. Now I know I was right.”

  Stone jolted. “Who did you think was watching you?”

  “I don’t know. I ran into this guy a couple of times around town over the past few days. I only noticed him because he stared a lot.”

  “You’re sexy, baby.”

  She dismissed that immediately. “He didn’t look at me like he wanted me. He stared a hole through me.”

  That set off Stone’s protective instincts. “Had you seen him anywhere before?”

  “Not that I remember.”

  “Did you get a good look at him? How tall? Race? Distinguishing marks or tattoos?”

  “He was probably five foot ten. White or light Hispanic. He wore a baseball cap, so I really didn’t get a good look at his face.” She shrugged. “The first time I saw him I just thought he was creepy. When I spotted him the next day, I wanted to flee.”

  Unfortunately, her description sounded like a lot of men and wasn’t enough to help him narrow down an identity. “Did you tell anyone?”


  Of course not. She’d been believing for years that she was trapped in this hell alone.

  “From now on, you tell me.”

  “Stone . . .” She glanced his way, her chocolate eyes pleading with him to drop the questioning.

  “No arguing about this. I’m going to take care of you. Together, we’re going to fix this.”


  He cut her off with a gentle press of his lips to hers. No matter how badly he wanted to, Stone didn’t nudge her mouth open and taste her again. He didn’t try to peel her clothes away and lower her to the bed. He merely told her without words that he was there for her.

  Slowly, she stopped trembling. Their breathing synced up. She relaxed against him with a sigh. “You know, you confuse me.”

  “How’s that?”

  Lily frowned, looking as if she was having a tough time putting her thoughts into words. “A lot of crap happened when I was sixteen. People I’d known my whole life backed away from me. They didn’t want to get involved because they were terrified of Canton. My mother threw me out of the house. One of the janitors let me sleep at school for a while, but eventually he told me I couldn’t stay. Neighbors wouldn’t take me in. My boyfriend broke up with me. I’d been working at a diner, but when I missed a few days, they fired me. Overnight, everyone I’d ever relied on was gone.”

  What had that done to her trust in people? Stone could only imagine how a girl would have processed such violence followed by that kind of betrayal.

  “Baby, I’m here.”

  “It seems that way.” Her eyes looked suspiciously full with tears, but they never spilled. He wouldn’t have blamed her if she boohooed her eyes out after that tale. Instead, she sucked it up. “I barely know you, and you’ve been understanding and helpful and kind of perfect every time I’ve turned around. Thanks.”

  Stone knew damn well that if she had any idea that he needed her to testify, she’d take every one of those words back. But after hearing her story—at least the parts she wanted to tell him—how could he not want to help her get her life back?

  “You’re welcome.” He tried to swallow his guilt and turn on the charm. “I know one way you can repay me.”

  “I’m not having sex with you as a way of saying thanks. Trust me, I’m doing you a favor,” she assured.

  He wanted to tell her that she must be completely wrong. With her hair gathered into a ponytail away from her naked face, she looked so earnest and innocent, yet still sexy. Sure, he liked the mysterious cat eyes she created with all that black eyeliner and her bloodred lips, the stockings that showcased her slender legs, and the figure-hugging clothes she wore that were often decorated with polka dots or bows. But who she was under all that intrigued him even more.

  When he’d first met her, Stone thought she’d been a pretty mouse, too shy to come out of her hole and too afraid to testify, even though justice really needed to be served. Now he saw how incredibly strong she was to simply have survived all that as a teenager and then start her life over again.

  “No, you’re going to have sex with me eventually because we both want it and you don’t want to say no anymore. And I’m going to prove to you that you’re an incredible woman both in and out of bed.” He kissed her forehead and released her. He didn’t want to do anything that would press Lily for more before she was ready. “What I want now is something I can’t do for myself. So you see, I’m not perfect, kind of or otherwise. So would you put me out of my misery and make me some breakfast?”

  Chapter Eight

  THE day passed. After a dinner of simple chicken and rice, Stone did the dishes whi
le Lily filled the tub in the bathroom on the other side of the kitchen wall. As he stuck his hands in sudsy water, he tried to focus on cleaning plates. That was like trying to think of Grandma during sex to stave off orgasm—annoying and ineffectual.

  After he’d slipped back into bed that morning with Lily and waited for her to wake, she’d curled up against him, one thigh thrown over his. It had felt like the longest hour of his life. Warm and soft and smelling so female, she’d driven him crazy. It had been all Stone could do to resist finding out for himself whether she was wearing underwear. But he’d been a good boy and hadn’t copped a cheap feel to answer his question.

  When he’d confronted her with her true identity, Lily had retreated into her shell, obviously trying to get her bearings again. Besides tidying up the cabin, she had read a book from the shelf in the living room about Cajun history. The place didn’t have any TV, so she’d watched a movie on his phone and caught up on her favorite pop culture sites. Dinner had been almost silent. He’d willed her to say something when he’d tried to engage her. She’d only spoken once.

  “Who else knows my real name?” she’d asked as she picked at her rice.

  “Thorpe and Sean.”

  “Which means Callie knows.” A flash of anger crossed her face. “You’re putting them in danger.”

  “Don’t you think they have a right to know who they’re harboring so they can be prepared in case Canton shows up?”

  Her guilty expression told him that she saw his point and hadn’t considered it in that light.

  “They won’t cast you out,” he reassured, taking her hand. “Jack Cole knows, too. He’s helping me. We’re trying to track down Canton’s whereabouts now and see if we can figure out where he’s been and what he’s been up to lately. I hacked into his system. All I can see is that he doesn’t like to do much on his computer besides play fantasy football and watch porn. If I didn’t know better, his Google searches would convince me he’s a fourteen-year-old.”

  “I didn’t say he was smart or sophisticated,” she drawled. “Just that he had a sharp criminal mind.”

  “I’ll start looking at his staff and buddies next.”

  She nodded absently, then withdrew her hand. “Did Thorpe tell Axel about me?”

  That possibility seemed to disturb her to the core. Stone tried to understand that her former protector had been her pillar, and she would have an abiding instinct not to disappoint the man. But Stone wished like hell that she wouldn’t dwell on her former lover and his feelings.

  That would stop tonight, as soon as he could understand her attachment to Axel well enough to discern how to work around it.

  Stone wasn’t stupid enough to fixate on his urge to slide Lily’s naked body against his and fill her with his aching cock when they had important catch-a-killer things to do. But while he waited on Jack and others to investigate Canton’s location and plots, he and Lily had so little diversion in the swamp. He found it hard to think about much other than her. Besides, Axel was due to land in Dallas in a few hours. If the guy was flying home from another continent because he worried about “his” Sweet Pea, Stone doubted that Axel was going to let little things like a long ride in the car or a state line stop him from reaching Lily.

  Stone knew damn well he had to figure out how to become important to her—tonight—or he’d probably lose her the second Axel walked in.

  That damn key Jack had given him earlier still burned a hole in his pocket. After he stacked the last of the clean dishes on the towel on the counter beside him, he crept down the hall to the locked door adjacent to the surveillance room.

  After a turn of the key, Stone stopped. A padded table in the center of the room took up most of the space. Besides that, a couple of what looked like exercise mats had been spread across the floor. Shelves were filled with plastic shoe box–size containers, each storing its own toy. A wall of pegboard held whips, floggers, restraints. It wasn’t fancy or elegant, but it was effective.

  He walked the perimeter of the room, staring, his footsteps loud in the relative silence. He needed a game plan and he needed it fast. According to what Jack and Logan had told him via Thorpe, Lily had never allowed anyone at Dominion to touch her except Axel. As far as they knew, the man had never punished her with pain or humiliation. Stone understood why, knowing what she’d witnessed as a girl. Axel hadn’t rewarded her with sex, though everyone suspected that he and Lily had sometimes had it. And still, she claimed she didn’t enjoy it and wasn’t any good at it.

  So Axel had both punished and rewarded Lily with his words. Stone knew he had to be different without crossing too many of her boundaries.

  Tall fucking order when, as Sean pointed out, his knowledge was all theoretical. But there was a first time for everything and his was now. He’d finally top Lily tonight.

  Stone drew in a deep breath and centered himself. That Dominant part he increasingly identified with filled him, expanding his lungs, making his blood race. He had to keep his cool, focus on her, and not lose his head to the needs of his dick.

  Before she made it out of the tub, he found a few implements he hoped would interest her and spread them out on a narrow table under a row of shelves. He dimmed the lights in the room, then shut the door.

  As she emerged from the bathroom, dressed in that splotchy, ugly-ass T-shirt he suspected she wore to turn him off, he blocked her path before she headed back to the living room.

  “I have more questions for you.”

  She sighed and sent him an expression that said she’d rather endure some crazy Chinese fingernail torture than talk about her past.

  “They’re not about Canton,” he assured.

  “Oh.” She looked relieved. “Okay.”

  “It also isn’t a request.”

  As soon as his words were out, she froze. The awareness on her face told him that she understood the command in his tone. “I don’t know if I can do this with you.”

  “Do what?” He wanted to be perfectly clear that she understood.

  “Submit.” She dropped her gaze and bowed her head.

  Lily wasn’t sure she could submit to him? Unconsciously, she just had.

  Stone lifted his palm and stroked her crown, then bent to kiss the top of her head. “You don’t know until you try.” He held out his hand. “I think you can. Come with me.”

  She hesitated, her gaze torn and fixed on his outstretched hand. She debated so long, Stone felt sure she’d refuse. Something in his chest wrenched. How the fuck could he persuade this bruised, wounded woman to put her faith in him?

  Before he could devise some other idea to win her over, Lily slid her hand into his. “I’ll do my best.”

  It wasn’t a promise, and he’d wanted one. Logically, Stone knew she could simply break it, so maybe her honesty was better.

  He led her to the playroom and eased the door open. As he stepped in, she got her first eyeful and gasped.

  “You didn’t expect this?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “Wow . . . I would never have imagined a place with a refrigerator built around the same year my grandma was born to come equipped like this.”

  Stone laughed. He liked her slightly offbeat observations and sense of humor. She had a lot to be serious about, but somehow she made him laugh when he least expected it.

  “I’m full of surprises tonight. Kneel on the mat over there, and we’ll negotiate.”

  Her smile faded, and he would have lamented its loss if a pretty blush hadn’t taken its place. “Yes, Stone.”

  The way she said his name, with the same reverence she’d say “Sir,” made him hard and more determined than ever to win her over, body and soul, tonight.

  Without a word, she approached the mats. Suddenly, she stopped. “Um, I’ve only ever done this with Axel. When we were alone, I usually wore . . . something different.”

  Stone would rather see her wear something other than the garments she’d enticed Axel with, but this wasn’t about him. “Do
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