Falling in deeper, p.27
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       Falling in Deeper, p.27
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  anyone else. Then start over however and with whomever you fancy.”

  Heath had some good points. But right now she was too disillusioned to sort through her thoughts and too heartsick to make any decisions. The idea of entering a courtroom alone and dredging up every bit of the excruciating past to a jury of twelve strangers both made her sick and filled her with terror. Of course, that assumed she would live long enough to testify at all. The minute Canton learned what she planned, he’d come after her with everything he had and he would take her down without mercy.

  The easiest path would be to start over as a new person with a new life, hopefully one Canton would never find. Forget Lily Taylor ever existed.

  Could she live with that?

  Lily said nothing to Heath because engaging him in conversation only meant he would try to influence her more.

  The sounds of nature broke the silence as they reached the dock beside the dirt parking lot. Callie’s pretty new Audi SUV sat beside Stone’s black truck. Axel must have borrowed it since he only owned a motorcycle. Heath was “visiting” so he didn’t have a car, either.

  Lily eyed the vehicles and the road beyond. Then she turned back. The sun slanted in shimmering beams through the cypress trees and over the still waters that, despite looking dead, she knew teemed with life. She couldn’t see Jack’s cabin or Stone and Axel standing on the porch watching Heath row her away anymore.

  She literally had come to a turning point in her life. Keep running to stay alive or risk death to tell her truth in a court of law?

  Heath tied off the boat, then clambered out, lifting her suitcase and duffel out of the little skiff. On wobbly legs, she stood and clutched her tote and the box of her most personal items.

  “Let’s talk this through, shall we?” he suggested. “I can be the voice of reason—”

  “I have plenty of reason on my own. Can you just let me think for ten minutes?” She sighed.

  Holding out a hand, Heath helped her onto land, then withdrew the keys to Callie’s car from his pocket. “Of course.”

  Lily winced at his clipped tones. She hated to be rude but tried not to worry about the feelings of a man doing her betrayers’ bidding. On the other hand, she had no doubt that Heath, a former MI5 agent, would keep her safe if Canton managed to track her down before she made her great escape.

  But at the end of the day, she didn’t want to exchange one keeper for another.

  “Thanks,” she murmured as he carried most of her luggage to the vehicle and stowed it inside.

  He merely nodded at her as he opened her door and started up the car.

  So now what? Lily didn’t have an answer.

  Inside the leather interior of the SUV filled with that luscious new-car smell, Lily settled beside Heath and tried to decide her next move. Regardless of whether she testified or not, she had to stay off Canton’s radar. It would be smarter if she kept off everyone else’s, too. That meant she had to scrap her plan to head to the Keys. Stone knew all about it—and he might not be the only one. No going to New Orleans, either. Now that she’d mentioned it on a whim to Heath, they’d look there as well.

  At the first possible moment, she would have to ditch her phone and computer. If Stone wasn’t tracking both, Axel might be. Or Thorpe. She’d thought they were all such concerned protectors. Instead, they were deceiving bastards. But every one of them was a control freak, and she had a suspicion they wouldn’t simply let her go. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why.

  Lily tried to think through her options. She didn’t really have money for new gadgets, but she could buy a new burner phone this afternoon and leave the other two devices behind somewhere. The batteries would run out soon enough; then her trail would be cold unless she did something stupid.

  Heath navigated the seemingly long drive to central Lafayette. Traffic bustled during the lunch hour as he stopped the sleek white SUV in the parking lot of a Walmart. “If you’re leaving, you’ll need a few items from here, right?” He looked up at the facade of the building. “I loathe this place.”

  Despite the really crappy day she’d had, Lily had to grin. “Me, too. But yeah. I should grab a few things.”

  “I’ll help.” He reached for the handle to open the door.

  She grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “You can leave me here. I’m a big girl. I’ll manage on my own. If I decide to testify, who do I contact?”

  Lily thought it wise to keep her options open, just in case.

  Heath shrugged. “Keep your mobile handy. One of us will text you shortly.”

  Seriously, her patience was coming to an end. “Don’t treat me like an idiot. You know I’m ditching the phone as soon as I can. I need an answer now.”

  With a sigh, Heath pulled his phone from his pocket and fired off a text. Within moments, the device dinged, signaling that he’d received an answer. “Special Agent Bob Bankhead. He’s out of the Los Angeles office. Stone is texting you the man’s phone number.”

  She’d just bet her sneaky Casanova was. Would he love it if she saved his ass? “Fantastic. Now ask him to leave me the hell alone for good.”

  Lily wasn’t sure why she’d made such a demand. No, that wasn’t true. Some foolish part of her hoped that he’d disregard her wish, come riding up on his white horse, and choose her after all.

  So stupid.

  “I can already tell you he won’t agree,” Heath supplied. “Ever.”

  Heath must be wrong. Stone would totally let her go as if she meant absolutely nothing to him because she didn’t. Still, maybe she was better off not hearing Stone’s answer. It would only hurt more, and she didn’t need the added pain.

  Damn it, she had to stop with the self-pity. She’d closed the chapter on her existence once at sixteen. She would simply do it again.

  “You think I’m wrong. I can tell.” Heath shook his head. “I’ve seen far too many men in love lately. I know what one looks like.”

  “Maybe. But I don’t think you’re very good at spotting a con man, and I wish you well with the future. Sounds like you’ll need it.” She hopped out of the car, not surprised when Heath followed. She ignored him and retrieved a shopping cart from a nearby corral, then opened the hatch in back and dumped her luggage in the cart. “Thank you for the ride. I hope you’re able to get over Mystery and move on. Good-bye.”

  Just like she hoped to recover from Stone someday. Realistically, that was probably far in the future.

  Heath shifted his weight, looking reluctant to go. “Lily, how will you leave town? You don’t have a car. As a target, you’re too easy to take out all alone like this. You’ll want privacy soon. Night will fall. Don’t make this easy for Canton. He might not have been the one to shoot Reaper in Iowa. It’s quite likely he still has violent men in his employ willing to do his bidding. He could be waiting for you around the next corner.”

  In her head, Lily knew that. She didn’t want to put her stubbornness over her personal safety but she was going to have to make do without these guys for the rest of her life. Why not start now? “I’m no longer your problem. Consider yourself relieved of duty or whatever. In less than three hours, I’ll be a completely new woman and long gone. Thanks for the lift.”

  With that, she headed into the store, only glancing back once to ensure that Heath hadn’t followed her. She’d half-expected him to, but to her surprise, he stood unmoving next to Callie’s sleek white vehicle, the hot wind ruffling his dark hair.

  Inside, Lily tried not to feel completely alone. She was surrounded by people, after all, some of whom would make for great social media posts.

  She hurried through the cool air of the big-box store and picked up a prepaid cell phone, along with a few other necessities, then hightailed it to the hair-care aisle. She scanned the dyes, trying to decide on a color. Red tended to attract attention and bleed out quickly. Most shades of dark blond washed her out because they contained too much gold for her pink skin tone.

  Why had Ston
e pretended to love and care for her, listened to her secrets, worshipped her body, and become her everything if all he’d wanted her to do was testify? Why hadn’t he just flat-out asked her? He’d barely tried to appeal to her logic. Maybe because he didn’t credit her with any. Right now, she was questioning that herself. She didn’t understand how he could look at her with such naked feeling, slide deep inside her, all the while convincing her of a love he didn’t feel.

  No. She wouldn’t think about him anymore. Stone wasn’t important to her future. Getting out of this town was. A medium brown color would help with that. She’d done it before. Not her favorite, but she would blend in.

  She grabbed the box, scanned it, and threw it in the shopping cart beside her.

  “Lily Taylor,” a masculine voice called from directly behind her.

  She froze. She hadn’t heard that voice since she was a teenager, not since one of the darkest days of her life.

  Timothy Canton.

  She turned slowly, hoping like hell her ears had deceived her. But no. There he stood. Despite his looking a few years older and a few pounds heavier, she recognized him. He definitely appeared more respectable in a pair of casual shorts and a crisp golf shirt with a cap low over his face. Anyone who saw him would imagine he’d just come off the course.

  How had he found her and crept up behind her?

  “It’s been a long time,” he murmured in a low, almost secretive voice.

  Fear froze the blood in her veins. Her eyes flared wide. Panic sliced through her like a physical pain. She backed up a step, rattling into boxes of hair color and shampoo. “You can’t kill me here. My murder will be on security cameras.”

  “Murder?” He gave her the same fake laugh she’d heard when he’d pretended surprise at finding Erin at the warehouse. It sent chills down her spine. “I came to Louisiana to talk to you, nothing more.”

  Sure, he had. Next, he’d try to sell her a bridge. Before he offed her and buried the evidence, of course.

  Timothy Canton didn’t compromise or give anything in return. He simply smashed everyone in his path with an iron fist. And because he wanted to be governor, they both knew she stood in his way.

  “I have nothing to say.” She fumbled for her purse and shoved her hand inside, rummaging around for her gun. “Go away.”

  “If you’re reaching for a firearm, I wouldn’t do that. The store management will have the police here in three minutes, and you’ll go to jail for carrying a weapon without a permit in Louisiana. If you point it at me, it would be natural for them to assume you mean to rob or kill me. And maybe everyone else in the store.”

  Canton was right, and Lily’s next instinct was to drop him to his knees with a swift kick to the balls, then start running. But the moment she left the store, she would no longer be in a public place, and she’d be so much easier for him or one of his thugs to eliminate.

  “I also feel compelled to point out that if you touch me in any other way, I can press assault charges.” He gave her an empty, almost benign smile.

  A politician’s smile, she realized. It promised benevolence and delivered whatever served him best. Though he looked more suited to the country club than to the mean streets these days, she couldn’t forget that he raped and killed without remorse. He’d taken her mother, her brother, and her best friend from her without blinking.

  Heart racing, thoughts whirling, she tried to decide what to do next. “What the hell do you want?”

  “Just to talk to you. I approached you in public, hoping that wouldn’t scare or intimidate you. Toward the front of the store there’s a sandwich shop. Let me buy you a soda. We’ll sit. I’d like you to hear me out.”

  “No.”

  “I suggest you reconsider.” His tone was silky, almost casual, but she heard the underlying threat. “It’s in our mutual best interest. I need your silence. And I have a lot of money, which you’ll need now that you have no job, no car, no friends, no home . . .”

  Lily felt as if he’d just punched her in the stomach. “H-how did you know all that? How did you find me?”

  “Come to the sandwich shop and I’ll explain.” He gestured to the end of the aisle.

  She looked for a way out of the situation. The last thing she wanted to do was sit across a table from Timothy Canton and pretend to have a civilized conversation. Under his new veneer, she had to believe he was still the same old criminal and sociopath. Still, the minute she left the store she was probably dead. Maybe she could play along, then tip off someone in the restaurant or an employee that she was in trouble. But what if she got an innocent bystander killed? Maybe she could escape to the women’s bathroom to call . . . who? She couldn’t ring anyone she’d left behind. Even if they came, she couldn’t trust them. And if she called the police, what could she say? A man from her past had accosted her in Walmart and forced her to have a carbonated beverage with him?

  No, but she had Bob Bankhead’s number on her phone. The fed might be able to get her out of this bind. True, but to secure his help, she’d have to agree to testify. Looking at Canton now, she wasn’t sure that was a smart idea.

  Lily forced herself to exhale and think. Canton wouldn’t hurt her in a public place with so many cameras on them. Maybe if she heard him out, she could find some way to escape this mess, hopefully for good.

  She prayed for calm as she pushed the cart filled with all her worldly belongings. As she walked up the aisle and turned left toward the sub shop she’d noticed when she first walked in, she passed row after row of shoppers and employees. No one seemed to notice anything unusual. That was good . . . and bad.

  When they reached the sub shop, Canton ushered her in and grabbed hold of her arm, ensuring she stood right beside him. His fingers bit into her arm with just enough force to remind her how dangerous he could be. But the smile he sent her, blankly kind, made her want to cringe. Its deceitful emptiness scared her most of all.

  “What would you like to drink?” he asked as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

  Nothing. She felt sure if she tried to swallow anything, she would throw up. But she already knew he wouldn’t accept that answer. “S-sprite.”

  When he reached the cashier, he ordered her soda and an iced tea for himself. She didn’t dare look at the girl behind the counter. She looked every bit as young as Erin had the day Canton had killed her. Lily didn’t want to be responsible for another young girl’s torture and death because she still remembered how much the barbarian had enjoyed taking Erin’s innocence before he’d taken her life. So she clutched the handle of her shopping cart and looked anywhere else.

  As soon as they had their cups, Canton led her to a square booth with a sticky wood laminate tabletop in the corner. He parked her cart behind it and set her cup down and shooed her into her seat before he planted himself across from her.

  “I have nothing to say to you.” She glared his way.

  “I think you’ll want to hear this.” He paused and sent her a considering stare. “You left Dallas quickly. Did that brute you used to sleep with break your heart when he started shacking up with the famous director’s daughter?”

  He knew about Axel? “How long have you been watching me?”

  “Years,” he assured her. “Keep your friends close . . .”

  And your enemies closer.

  Lily swallowed. And Canton hadn’t tried to kill her in all that time? Of course, since he was running for governor, that meant he had to rid all the ghosts from his past. “Why the hell bother with chitchat now that you’ve blown up my car and my life?”

  He scowled. Even though his golden brown hair didn’t move, his face appeared to turn down into something that looked almost like a real expression. “I heard about that incident. I didn’t plant that bomb. I merely left you flowers in your car at work, telling you exactly what I wanted. I was waiting across the street for you, watching for the moment you found the bouquet so I could approach you. But you weren’t alone. That ex-con who wanted you so
badly followed you to the parking lot. When you left Dominion, you did it so quickly, I didn’t have the opportunity to follow. The bomb was unexpected.”

  “Meaning one of your goons did it?” She sneered.

  “No.” He managed to grit his teeth yet still flash her that terrible smile again. “Meaning I have no idea how or why it happened. Let’s try to be pleasant, all right?”

  She leaned in and scowled. It didn’t matter if she was a bitch to Canton because he was probably going to kill her. “I can’t sit across from the animal who murdered so many people I loved and not want to both vomit and stab you myself.”

  He gave her a nod of seeming regret that she didn’t believe for a second. “Ancient history, Ms. Taylor. That was a different time, and I’m a different man now.”

  Bullshit. “Yeah? Then why did you rape and kill a woman in my apartment who looks suspiciously like me? Or are you going to tell me that wasn’t your handiwork, either?”

  “I had nothing to do with that.” He shook his head, doing his best to look innocent.

 
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