Falling in deeper, p.24
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       Falling in Deeper, p.24
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  herself. He’d been deeply understanding so far, and she had to believe he always would be. “I-I was wearing one just before everything went so wrong with Erin.”

  That made Stone pause, and he sent her a dissecting stare. “I suspected something like that when the blindfold fear first cropped up. You want to tell me what happened?”

  Not really. The thought made Lily sick. But she had to get this off her chest. She needed the man she loved to understand. “I told you that after Corey got arrested, he talked to the police, right? Once he went free, Canton and his goons started looking for him, and he disappeared, went totally underground. Mafia approached me one day as I walked home from school and told me that he wanted to talk to Corey. I told them I didn’t know anything, that I was just house-sitting while they’d gone away for a while. He told me to let him know if I saw Corey because Canton wanted to call a truce. He said Corey was one of his best street dealers, and he hadn’t meant to leave him in jail for two days. Mafia said Canton and Corey needed to iron their shit out. I didn’t really believe him but . . . I wanted Corey to be the one to decide if he wanted to talk to Canton or not. But he wasn’t answering his phone.

  “I waited a while. Then I walked to the abandoned warehouse where Corey told Erin to squat inside and hide. Canton’s goons followed and when I approached the building, they came up behind me, blindfolded me, and shoved me inside. After the doors opened, I heard a girl scream and I knew it was Erin. I tried to get free but I was too pregnant to move fast. They trapped her inside. As they tied me to a chair, I heard scuffling. When they ripped the blindfold from my eyes, they already had Erin gagged and pinned to the blow-up mattress she’d been sleeping on. Then like in a perfectly timed movie, Canton walked in. He told me that I needed to watch what came next so that I could tell Corey that he’d brought this on himself and could understand the consequences of crossing him.” She shuddered. “You know the rest.”

  Stone’s expression filled with empathy for her pain and loss. “Baby, if I could take that ache from you, I would. I know you’ve blamed yourself—”

  “Who else could I blame? I led them to my best friend, who died horrifically. I never thought that Canton’s goons would follow me. I was too busy wondering how I was going to raise my baby. Hell, I didn’t even know where my next meal was coming from. Erin’s mom had taken most of the food from the house when they fled, and I didn’t have much money. I was hungry and stressed. And I wasn’t fucking thinking about the fact that Canton wasn’t the sort to make amends. He just slit throats and tore apart lives.”

  “Shh.” He stroked her hair and kissed her forehead as he murmured the low, reassuring sound. “You didn’t think like a criminal. That’s not your fault. You had so much else on your plate. Why didn’t Erin’s mom take you with her into hiding?”

  Her eyes welled up with tears but they didn’t fall. “She offered to. I wanted my high school diploma. I knew I’d need it to get a better job once Regina was born. I still had two years left but I had a plan for tackling those with some online classes and babysitting help. I’d pretty much passed all my sophomore stuff. I just had two more exams. If I didn’t take them, I had to repeat the whole year again.” She clenched her hands together and stared as agony and misery ripped through her. “I never did get to take them. And I never got my diploma, just a GED. I went into hiding that night. Less than two weeks later, I left LA and never looked back.”

  Stone blew out a breath. The story was a lot to take, and she wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to be with someone so naive, who’d left nothing but death and destruction behind her, even if unwittingly.

  “Now I can understand why seeing the lilies in the front seat of your car freaked you out. The note I assume was from Canton telling you to bury the past—”

  “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Maybe I should be a bigger person but I won’t forgive him. And I can’t forgive myself.”

  “Is that why you don’t cry?” he asked.

  Lily froze. He’d noticed? “I tried to cry after Erin’s death but I couldn’t. I wept dry tears after Regina died. I felt the urge to sob my first night as a homeless girl, the first time I had to steal to eat, when I finally left California. But the tears remained trapped inside me. I tried too hard after the first time I had sex with Axel. I wanted to feel better, healed. Something. But I still felt broken. And empty. I keep hoping that someday I’ll figure out how to let it all go.”

  “You will. We will because we’ll do it together. We will talk or laugh or make love or whatever you need, Lily. Whatever it takes. I’ll be right beside you.”

  “I know what it’s going to take.” Lily swallowed.

  There was no avoiding the reality anymore that the only way she’d have a future with this man was if she confronted the past in a court of law. Once, she’d been able to pretend that maybe Canton had moved on and didn’t care about her now. She’d been cautious but hopeful that as long as she stayed quiet, she wouldn’t meet the same terrible fate Erin had. Now she knew better. She could keep running and never have anything to look forward to. Or she could face her fears, tell the truth, and make him pay for what he’d done. Make sure he could never hurt anyone else again.

  Even the thought of facing that man across a courtroom terrified her. Her palms were already sweating. Her heart started thumping furiously. A knot of anxiety balled in her stomach. Once, those symptoms would have been enough to convince her that she wasn’t ready to be anyone’s crusader.

  But now she had something to fight for, someone worth the risk. She had Stone.

  “I’ll do it.” She closed her eyes. “I’ll testify.”

  Beside her, Stone froze. Then he lunged at her and took her face in his hands, scanning her expression. “You sure?”

  Lily hesitated, checking her thinking again. But she came to the same conclusion. “Yeah. I’m stronger now. It’s time. He should pay for what he’s done, and I’m the only one who can make that happen.”

  “Exactly. That’s great, baby. I’m proud of you.”

  “You’ll stay with me?” Lily hated being needy but she already knew she would need him to get through what was sure to be a long and terrifying ordeal.

  “Every second. I’m here for you.”

  She melted against him. Stone would keep her safe. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve someone as wonderful as you. How did I get so lucky?” She caressed his face, her heart brimming with devotion.

  She could look at this man and pour her heart out to him forever. He had changed everything for her. He’d filled her when she felt empty. He’d understood when she felt confused. He’d made her believe she was a good person when she felt unworthy. It sounded cliché, but he completed her.

  “You did, didn’t you?” He winked, then sobered. “It’s going to be fine. You’ve made a good decision. You’ll testify, this mess will be over, and then we can get on being happy together.”

  That sounded perfect. “I love you, Stone Sutter.”

  “I love you, too, baby. You feel like sleeping . . . or are you ready for round two?”

  Lily bit her lip and smiled with her eyes. She could barely contain the joy inside her.

  “Tough decision. Wow, let me think.” She tapped a finger to her cheek in mock consideration. “I think I’ll take round two.”

  Without prompting, she rolled to her back and spread her legs, arms open to him. Bliss and euphoria rolled over her in a rapturous mix, all stirred up with an undying love she would always feel for this man.

  Then he grabbed a condom, rolled on top of her, and took her to heaven.

  * * *

  STONE lay sleeping all curled up with Lily, spooning her with his back to the door, as if he intended to protect her with his own body if Canton or anyone found them. Because he did. Nothing—no one—would come between them.

  A buzzing jolted him from sleep, and he turned to find his phone lit up and vibrating on the nightstand. Jack.

  He rolled aw
ay, grabbed it as he landed on the hardwood and walked out of the bedroom. “Talk to me.”

  “I’m afraid I’m the bad-news fairy again. Sean got into Lily’s apartment. Apparently after the police removed the crime-scene tape, the landlord sent a cleaning lady to spic-and-span the place up. When he hadn’t heard from her in a few hours, he let himself into the apartment and found the woman spread out on the bed. She’d been restrained, sexually violated, and stabbed twenty-four times. The killer wrote ‘BITCH’ in big letters on the wall in her blood.”

  Groping for the nearest chair, Stone sank down at the kitchen table, his whole body shaking. “Fuck.”

  “It gets worse, man. The victim was the same age as Lily. Same height, similar build. She even had brown eyes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I’d bet Canton mistook this woman for Sweet Pea and ended her.”

  Stone didn’t disagree. But maybe that could work to their advantage. “This will sound terrible, but if Canton thinks he’s won, maybe he’ll go home. If you guys can persuade the police to tell the press that Lily was the victim—”

  “It’s too late. The evening news already interviewed a few witnesses who live in the building and knew the dead woman wasn’t Lily.”

  If the press knew, then so did Canton. “Damn it.”

  “I’m not done,” Jack warned.

  “Jesus! Every time you open your mouth, you have new crap to unload and I want to punch the shit out of you,” Stone snarled in frustration.

  “I’m just the messenger, man. Here are the bigger issues: Mafia got shanked in prison two days ago. He tangled with another inmate about who ruled the Aryan Brotherhood in their house. Looks like he lost. Other witnesses say these two hadn’t had a beef with each other in years. But their fight suddenly morphed into murder.”

  Stone closed his eyes as cold dread rolled through him. “Or maybe Canton is emptying his closet of all the skeletons. Anyone who could open their mouth and put him away is on his hit list. So what about Reaper?”

  “He’s missing. His wife reported this morning that she hadn’t seen him in nearly twenty-four hours. According to police, she told them that he’d been acting strange over the last few weeks, but then he just disappeared.”

  “Jack . . .” Stone gripped the phone. He didn’t have to be a genius to do the math. “Two dead bodies and a missing guy all within a few days? Canton is coming after Lily.”

  “And coming hard. In your shoes, I’d be reaching the same conclusion. You have to convince her to go to the feds now and testify. They can lock her down and protect her.”

  Maybe. But sometimes that didn’t work out. Given how far Canton had already reached, Stone couldn’t deny that the douchebag was connected and powerful. He probably knew exactly who to pay off so he could find and dust the last witness alive who could keep him from the governor’s chair.

  A plan started to form in his head. It was the least smelly pile in a field of shit, but it would keep Lily safe.

  “But federal protection isn’t foolproof or a guarantee,” Stone argued.

  “It’s not,” Jack agreed.

  Stone rolled the thoughts in his head around some more and came to one conclusion. “You wouldn’t take that option, would you?”

  “As a law-abiding citizen, I would try like hell to choose it first. But if I had to leave the protection of my woman to someone who could be bribed not to do the job right, then no. I would only put her safety in hands I could damn well trust. Then . . . well, if the problem isn’t going to go away, I know how to deal with it.”

  Stone did, too. “True that.”

  “If it helps, if you decide that you need to handle the problem personally, I’ll do whatever you need to help keep Lily safe.”

  That was exactly what Stone needed to hear. “Thanks, man. That’s good to know.”

  “It’s what friends do for one another.”

  Stone hadn’t really had one he trusted in years and never one as solid as Jack.

  “I’d do the same for you. And as much as I didn’t like the info you imparted, I appreciate you keeping me posted. Sorry to bite your head off. I’ll be in touch.”

  They rang off, and Stone heaved a giant sigh. He had decisions to make—and fast. But really, how much choice did he have? He’d never risk Lily. Ever. Time to try door number two.

  With a shaking hand, he texted Logan for One-Mile’s phone number. The younger Edgington sent it back with a quick Can I help? Stone replied that he was cool. Hopefully, that gave Logan plausible deniability since the man had a wife and twin girls to consider.

  As soon as the number he’d requested appeared in his display, he clicked the link with an unsteady finger. Yeah, this could put him away for a long time.

  But Lily and her safety were way more important than his freedom.

  One-Mile answered on the first ring. “Who the fuck is this?”

  “Stone. Logan introduced us earlier this week.” Just before you fought with Cutter about the girl you both want.

  He didn’t think reminding Pierce of that incident would be wise.

  “Yeah.” The sniper sounded only slightly less hostile. “I remember.”

  “I have a question for you, straight up.”

  The guy growled. “If this has anything to do with Brea—”

  “No. That’s between you, her, and Cutter. I called to ask for help with a dirtbag capable of raping young girls and torturing children. His murder quotient is high.”

  “Is this personal?” Now the sniper sounded way more interested.

  “Yep.” He cleared his throat. “And I have money.”

  One-Mile didn’t say anything for a long time. “The cops?”

  “It’s a federal matter now. This asshole has disposed of most of the witnesses. I think he’s coming after the one I’m protecting next.”

  “And you can’t handle him?”

  “The feds won’t leave me here to protect her much longer.”

  “That’s right, you’re the ex-con.”

  Stone gritted his teeth. “Current. They want me to persuade this woman to testify. If I do, they’ll commute my sentence because this murdering douche is a huge fish and someone will get a nice feather in their political cap if they can put him behind bars. But she won’t be alive long enough to testify. And he’ll make her death as ugly as he’s made the rest of her life. Me? I could live with going back to the big house if this guy got planted six feet under. That’s as straight up as I can put it.”

  “To be clear, are you asking me to kill him for money?”

  Stone didn’t have a huge morality problem with permanently stopping someone who intended to cut down the woman he loved. But the tone of One-Mile’s question told him the answer better not be yes. Oh, that’s right. Jack and all his buddies were heroes, not killers. It might have sounded as if Jack would be ruthless enough to shoot Canton but he wouldn’t take the criminal way out. None of them would.

  That’s why Stone knew he would never fit in.

  “I’m asking if you would assist Jack in protecting her and use your skills if he comes within ten feet of this woman once I’m gone,” Stone clarified.

  One-Mile let out a long breath, not so much a release of tension as a sound of satisfaction. “That’s the kind of shit I like. You think he’s planning to make a move soon?”

  “Any day now. He’s already tried.”

  “Keeping my trigger finger ready day and night will cost you ten grand a month. I get a ten grand bonus if I have to ‘act’ because the hassle and paperwork are a bitch. And that’s the friend discount.”

  “Done.” Stone had some money saved. He’d spend every dime to make sure Lily stayed safe.

  “When? I’ll have to talk to the three stooges—I mean, my esteemed bosses—and clear everything.”

  “I hope I have another day or two before this shit blows up. That give you enough time to take care of your business?”

  “Plenty.”

  “Then I’ll be in touch.”
<
br />   One-Mile hung up before he could say another word, and Stone stared at the phone, exhaling a nervous breath. Now came the hardest phone call of all. He toyed with the device, tapping it on the table from corner to corner. Once he did this, it couldn’t be undone. He would be giving up his future for another few years, maybe more depending on how much he pissed off the feds.

  Slowly he rose and made his way down the hall, toward the bedroom. Lily lay there, her slender curves barely concealed under the white sheets they’d tangled up less than an hour ago. He’d wrap her up there again tonight and hold her in his arms until the sun rose.

  Tomorrow . . . he had no idea exactly what would happen but he
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