Falling in deeper, p.25
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       Falling in Deeper, p.25
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  knew he would be gone. And he’d done everything he could to ensure that Lily would be safe.

  Nothing else mattered.

  Back in the kitchen, he picked up his phone again. Oddly, his hands no longer shook.

  Bankhead, his FBI handler, picked up on the third ring, sounding slightly groggy. “You got something for me, Sutter?”

  “Yeah.” Stone dragged in a deep breath and pissed away what was left of his future. “I’m out.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  THE next morning, the sound of boots on the pier in front of the cabin broke the swamp’s silence. Stone’s eyes flew open. Dawn slanted through the bedroom window. Lily lay sound asleep, naked and warm, beside him.

  Someone uninvited had come.

  Stone rolled out of bed and jumped into his pants, then grabbed his phone and rummaged around for Lily’s gun. Who the fuck knew where he and Lily had hidden? Jack hadn’t advised that he was coming out with more groceries this morning. Could Canton possibly have found them? If so, then goddamn it, they had a mole somewhere in the inner circle. Who? Jack would never sell him out. Neither would Thorpe or Sean.

  Maybe you shouldn’t have opened your mouth to One-Mile, fidiot.

  Gritting his teeth, Stone stepped out of the bedroom and crept down the hall. The sounds of footsteps outside grew louder as they approached the front door. He heard low conversation, so more than one guy waited out there. Shit!

  Stone braced himself against the wall at the end of the hall. In the wide-open space inside, he couldn’t find decent cover between there and the door. Judging from the sound of the boots, it was too late to slip out the side entrance and intercept them out front. He hoped that whoever had staged their attack out there didn’t have the key code to open the door, but that probably wouldn’t stop them from busting it down or smashing in a window.

  The door handle jiggled. When it didn’t give, whoever stood outside pounded on the door.

  What the fuck? Were these intruders so cocky that they no longer bothered with stealth?

  He needed backup—and he needed it fast.

  Yanking his phone from his pocket, Stone tapped in the security code with his free thumb, still gripping the semiautomatic subcompact nine millimeter with his other hand. Before he could even call Jack, a message from Thorpe jumped out at him.

  Axel woke in the middle of the night and started driving your way. Sorry. I didn’t realize he was gone until now.

  Dominion’s owner had sent the message thirty-eight minutes ago. So Axel was probably one of the men on the porch. Who had come with him?

  “Sutter, I know you’re in there. Open the fuck up.”

  Yep, that was Axel.

  Letting out a breath, he pocketed the phone again but left the firearm in hand. It was better to have Axel creep up to his door than Canton, but not by much. No doubt, shit was going to hit the fan—and splatter back hard.

  As Stone tiptoed closer, he calculated the odds that he could wake Lily and, with her, sneak out the bedroom window, then make their way back to his truck while Axel and his buddy barged in the front of the cabin. Before he could decide whether it would work, Axel squashed the idea.

  “C’mon, Sutter. I didn’t come alone. We’ve got the place surrounded. Open up and let me see Sweet Pea.”

  Son of a bitch.

  Wanting to pound in the asshole’s head, Stone stomped to the door and yanked it open. “Her name is Lily. I’m taking care of her from now on, and she’s fine. Why the fuck are you here?”

  Axel stood about three inches taller and outweighed him by thirty pounds. Despite the fact that the big guy could assuredly beat the pulp out of almost anyone, Stone stood his ground. This was his plan, damn it. She was his woman.

  “I say she’s okay once I’ve seen and talked to her and I’m convinced, not before.”

  Stone’s entire body clenched with a surge of fury. “She doesn’t belong to you anymore.”

  Axel raised a skeptical brow. “And you think she belongs to you now?”

  “Yeah.” Stone stared him down. “In fact, I don’t think. I know.”

  The guy scoffed. “You’re a con man who has a hard-on for her. She is never going to choose a criminal with a record.”

  That comment dug under Stone’s skin, mostly because he worried that Axel was ultimately right. Lily might trust him with her body and she might let him give her pleasure. But if they could ever live that normal life he’d fantasized about just yesterday, would she really choose a man whose every job application would read ‘felon’?

  Probably not, but Stone refused to let Axel take her without a fight. “You didn’t even know her real name, asshole. You didn’t know all the details about her past.” You didn’t get to blindfold her or make love to her on top.

  “She kept secrets to protect me. I’ve always known that. I dug enough to be sure she was all right but not enough to invade her privacy. Where the fuck do you get off trying to keep me at arm’s length from a sub under my protection?”

  “You released her,” Stone reminded Axel, who had conveniently forgotten.

  The big guy’s jaw worked with anger. “I will always care about her and her well-being. I don’t give a shit whether she’s formally my responsibility or not. So unless you’ve slapped a collar on her or an engagement ring on her finger, your ‘claim’ isn’t more important than the nearly three years I spent with her, and you can fuck off.”

  When Axel shouldered his way through the front door, Stone scrambled back and pointed the gun in his face. “No. You will not upset her. You don’t get to hurt her anymore.”

  “What does that mean? Everything I ever did for Misty—Lily—I did to help her.”

  “You made her feel like a science experiment, like a broken fragment of a woman. She needed love, not training. She needed a friend more than a Dom.”

  “Fuck you,” Axel spat back. “I love that girl. Maybe not romantically, but I’ve always loved her. She’s one of my best friends. I held her when she seemed down. I listened when she felt like opening up. I gave her vanilla sex when she wanted to feel ‘normal.’ I couldn’t force myself to be in love with her but I tried to anticipate her needs and provide her with whatever I could to help her feel whole. Who the hell are you to judge me for it?”

  “Because she was still broken and bottled up when I took her away. She—”

  “Yeah, that’s something else I want to talk to you about. You took her—abducted her—without consulting Thorpe or Sean or—”

  “Oh, excuse the hell out of me for deciding to get her away from the car bomb rather than stop and ask everyone’s permission like some pansy ass. I think Canton was watching her that day. That moment. If I hadn’t tossed her in the car, I really don’t know what would have happened. If the guy could see her, did he have a high-powered scope zeroed in on her too, in case the explosion failed? I didn’t know, and I didn’t hang around to find out. Besides, Lily isn’t a wilting flower. She pulled a gun on me.”

  That made Axel grin with pride. “I never said she was weak. I said you didn’t have permission to take off with her. If you hadn’t saved her ass, I would have you drummed up on kidnapping—”

  “Why do you hate me? I thought you were happy with your fiancée.” Stone’s eyes narrowed. “But you sound like a jealous prick.”

  Axel reared back. “Fuck, no.”

  “He’s an overprotective older brother—and a wanker at that,” said another guy who walked around the corner and entered the cabin, then stuck out his hand. He looked to be a few years older than Axel. He sounded very British. “Heath.”

  Yeah, Stone remembered seeing the guy’s face the night he’d first met Lily. At least he sounded more reasonable.

  “Stone.” He shook the man’s hand.

  “Trust me when I tell you that Axel and Mystery are quite happy. Every time I stay near them, I inevitably hear precisely how happy they are from the next room. He makes sure of it. I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t simply
piss on her.”

  Axel turned to Heath with a scowl. “Don’t make me regret bringing you along. You wanted something to do? Help me get Sweet Pea away from this dude and out of here.”

  * * *

  AWAKENED by shouting, Lily rolled over to find Stone gone. His side of the bed was still slightly warm. She frowned, bleary-eyed. He’d kept her awake half the night making love to her over and over. He’d never let her far from his side, always wanting to touch her somewhere, in some way. He’d melted the rest of her defenses last night. But now she was wishing she’d gotten more sleep because she couldn’t remember if Stone had been expecting company, nor could she think of anyone who would want to shout at him.

  The decibel level of the voices outside the solid bedroom door increased but she couldn’t make out the words. Lily frowned.

  What if someone had come to threaten them? What if that someone was dangerous?

  What if Timothy Canton had found them?

  The last vestiges of her sleepiness fell away. She shoved the blankets off, eased to the floor, and tiptoed across the room. The old cottage had beautiful original hardwood floors, but they creaked. Doing her best to ignore the squeaky floorboards, she crept closer to the door. A quick search revealed that her gun was gone, and she already knew that nothing in the bedroom would make an effective weapon.

  Instead, she paused, trying to detect the threat level, and pressed her ear to the door. That voice, the loud one, sounded like Axel’s. Shock pinged her. Wasn’t he in London with Mystery?

  With a frown, she donned a pair of yoga pants and an old oversize T-shirt, then eased the door open. Not that anyone could possibly hear the slight squeak of the door over their shouting. Then a vaguely familiar voice reached her ears, this one British. Heath? Had he come from the UK with Axel? What the heck was happening?

  “. . . help me get Sweet Pea away from this dude and out of here.” Axel? Lily frowned. Who was he talking to and why did he think she needed to leave Stone?

  “Don’t be a fuckwit. He loves her.” That voice belonged to Heath.

  “I don’t believe that for a second.” Yes, that was Axel. When had the two men flown to the States? And why did he sound so pissed off?

  “Then you’re an idiot.” Lily smiled at Stone’s voice. He sounded honest and a bit snarky, but she heard the tenderness under it all. Maybe that made her sappy and lovesick, but that man did it for her. “You set me up with that first meeting—”

  “Because you extorted it from me. If I hadn’t needed that information, I would never—”

  “But you used me to get it because you wanted to find Mystery,” Stone cut in.

  Lily was shocked. That’s why Axel had allowed them to meet? So he could pursue another woman? She tried not to feel hurt . . . and she mostly succeeded. But she did feel a bit second-class.

  “And you knew I was hot to meet Lily.” She heard the accusation in Stone’s tone, as if he was angry with Axel for using his desire against him. It warmed her heart a little. “So are we going to stand here and argue about what’s best for her? Or do you want to help me protect her?”

  Okay, that warmed her heart even more. Stone wanted her. He always had. And he was willing to mend fences with Axel for her sake.

  “I won’t argue about what’s best for her because I already know,” Axel shot back.

  “Bullshit.”

  And now the two of them were going to make this a pissing match? She started to exit the bedroom, shaking her head. Then Axel scoffed and spoke again.

  “You think you know her but you only know the information you’ve managed to worm out of her. I know that woman deep down, all the way to her soul. I know how she thinks. I know what she enjoys doing in her spare time. I know her quirky habits. And I know how she’s going to react when she finds out you schemed to romance her so you could exchange her testimony for your freedom.”

  At Axel’s accusation, Lily froze. A chill spread through her blood. Stone had made a deal to get out of prison if he persuaded her to testify? Was that true? Could he have lied that terribly?

  She pushed out of the bedroom and stood in the hallway, her gaze finding Stone. He zipped around and stared back. She knew her face must be begging him to defend himself and refute Axel, to rewrite that insidious version of events with some other story. Instead, Stone winced.

  Lily’s stomach dropped to her knees and she clutched herself, fighting the urge to throw up. “Is Axel telling the truth?”

  The other men swiveled in her direction.

  Heath rolled his eyes. “And now you’ve unleashed the kraken.”

  “Baby . . .” Stone tucked the gun into the small of his back, then took hesitant steps in her direction, clearly uncertain of his welcome.

  “Don’t ‘baby’ me. I want answers.”

  Stone cursed under his breath. A guilty flush ran up his face. A hundred alarm bells pealed inside her head.

  Axel started plowing across the room in her direction, looking grim and determined and furious. “Every word is true.”

  She took a step back and held up her hands to ward both men off, her gaze bouncing back and forth between them. “Stop there.”

  They halted, glanced at each other to ensure each intended to honor her request, then turned their gazes back to her.

  “It’s not what you think.” Stone sent her an imploring expression.

  He wasn’t denying Axel’s claim. He wasn’t insisting on his innocence.

  Stone was guilty as hell. That realization hit her like a physical pang.

  “Don’t let him tell you any more lies,” Axel reasoned. “He sought you out because the feds offered him a chance to commute his sentence. All he had to do was get you to agree to testify against Canton before the dude runs for governor.”

  Lily had already pieced that together but when she heard the words, they stabbed her in the heart. They made her curl her arms around herself and want to fall to her knees in agony.

  Stone hadn’t loved her; he’d used her. Everything between them had been a lie.

  “How did you find out?” she asked, hoping that Axel had gotten it wrong or misunderstood or somehow twisted the facts.

  But in her heart, she already knew that wasn’t the case.

  “Thorpe. He knew. Sean knew. Jack, Logan, Hunter—they all knew.” Axel gritted his teeth. “Hell, they all helped him prepare for this con job. And no one told me because they knew I’d object like hell. You’re not a pawn, goddamn it.”

  So nearly everyone in her life had betrayed her? Nearly everyone she’d ever trusted had played a part in manipulating her to testify and hadn’t cared if Stone broke her heart or Canton ended her life? Why?

  “Is this all true? I want to hear it from you.” She turned to Stone, feeling as if she were breaking apart inside. Her composure was cracking with every labored breath. Her chest hurt more with each second. The silence was terrible.

  “The feds offered me this deal after I’d begun working for Jack because Canton had no reason to associate me with you, and if he managed to somehow connect the dots and wanted to take out a threat to his organization, I’d be expendable. No one cares if a convict dies and—”

  “Answer the question! Did you seduce me with all your bullshit tenderness and lies so you could get out of prison?” She managed to shout the question, but she had no idea where the energy had come from. She really wanted to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth while trying to understand why everyone she loved, especially Stone, had so completely betrayed her.

  Maybe this was karma repaying her for what she’d done to Erin.

  Stone opened his mouth, like he intended to say something, but he didn’t speak. Worry crossed his face. Then regret.

  Lily felt as if her world tilted, threw her off balance, then dropped out from beneath her. She was in free fall, her stomach sickly tense and unsettled. Pain lanced through every vein. Her heart felt ready to explode.

 
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