Falling in deeper, p.29
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       Falling in Deeper, p.29
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  He whipped his phone out again and texted Bankhead. I told you yesterday that I wanted out of your scheme since it’s too dangerous to make Lily testify. When can I expect to go back to the big house?

  Bankhead wrote back almost instantly. Tomorrow, you stupid prick. You were lucky to have this opportunity and you pissed it away. It won’t come again.

  Stone didn’t feel lucky, but at least he had proof of his intentions. He shoved his phone in Axel’s face. “Read this. I’m done wasting my time here with you. I’m leaving to talk to Lily. Before I go back behind bars, I want her to know that I loved her and never betrayed her. I’ve already got a plan in motion to make her safe while I’m gone. So go back to your fiancée and get the fuck out of my way.”

  With a frown of concentration, Axel mulled over the texts. “You really tried to bow out?”

  “Yes. I also tried to hire someone to kill Canton. I’m already going back to prison, so I really didn’t care if I got hit with solicitation of murder, too. Fucker wouldn’t take the job but he agreed to watch over her and put a bullet between Canton’s eyes if necessary.”

  Axel cocked his head. “Seriously?”

  “Yeah. You obviously thought me finagling that first meeting with Lily showed my true mercenary colors or whatever, but I really did just want to meet her. And I want to spend my life with her—” He sighed. “Why the fuck am I explaining myself to you? I don’t care if Heath has an eye on her. I’m done. Letting her cool off was a bad idea. I’d rather have her be with me and pissed off than gone and in any possible danger.”

  “Sorry.” Axel swallowed, looking contrite. “I had no idea you actually had feelings for her. I didn’t come here with anything in mind except to provide her protection and—”

  “Save it. I’m going to find her.” But when he used the app he’d installed on his phone to track hers, it told him the device was offline. Cold dread sliced him in two. He had to get to town before she changed her appearance and got away for good.

  As he made for the door, Axel’s phone dinged. “Wait. We have an issue.”

  Stone froze. “What?”

  “Heath says Canton was inside the Walmart where he dropped Lily off. She looked shaken when she came out. He followed her.”

  Stone couldn’t breathe. He’d failed her, totally fucking blown it by letting anyone come between them. He’d wanted her to calm down; then he’d hoped to explain the situation to her again and that she would choose him. Or at least forgive him. He’d thought for sure Canton couldn’t find her that quickly or easily, that she’d be all right for an hour or two. The risk had been too big, and now he regretted it like hell.

  “I have to go right fucking now.” Stone grabbed his keys and left everything else behind.

  “But wait. Heath says now that a Good Samaritan gave her a lift. A woman with a baby.”

  That news cut through a bit of his panic, unwinding some of the knots in his gut. “So she’s safe?”

  “It looks that way for now. Heath said the woman drove away too quickly for him to follow, though. I’ll ask him about a license plate.”

  Before he could finish tapping out the text, Stone’s phone dinged. One-Mile finally responded. The only message was a picture of a license plate. Text followed. Your girl got away from the dirtbag and escaped in this car. I’m following them now.

  “I’ve got the plate.” Stone told Axel. “I don’t have a goddamn computer here. We need to run this number. It’s from California.”

  Axel froze. “A coincidence?”

  That bugged the shit out of him. “I don’t believe in them. Fuck.”

  His head raced. Who the hell could he call? Who would know . . . He prowled through his contacts and hit Logan’s number.

  “Hey, fucker, I’m still not talking to you after that Dilbert thing,” the former SEAL grumbled after one ring.

  Stone didn’t bother with the banter. “Lily left the cabin and jumped into an unfamiliar car. I need to know who it’s registered to before she disappears.”

  “I’m not good with—”

  “I’m calling to ask for your wife. I didn’t know how to contact Tara directly.”

  “Send me the info. I’ll find her and call you right back when I’ve got something.”

  Relief poured through Stone. Maybe all wasn’t lost. One-Mile was still trailing her. They might be able to quickly identify whether this woman in the blue car was friend or foe.

  “Texting it right now.”

  Stone forwarded One-Mile’s picture, then gripped the device and waited.

  “We should head out, I think,” Axel suggested.

  It might have been one of the few times the big bruiser hadn’t tried to boss him around. “I don’t give a fuck what you do but I know where I’m going. So if you don’t want to be stranded here until Jack comes to fetch your ass, let’s go.”

  Axel nodded, and they headed to the boat, Stone locking up behind him. He’d turn all the generators and breakers off later. If he even had that much of a later before heading back to prison. If not . . . Jack could handle it.

  They settled into the skiff in silence, he and Axel rowing quickly through the thick, still water. It wasn’t fast enough for Stone, who needed to move, to do something to find Lily faster—climb out, swim, run, whatever worked. But logic told him they were moving faster now than he could do any of those things, and he simply had to put a lid on his worry and impatience.

  A minute later, Logan popped up with a message that didn’t make sense at first. The name of the man to whom the vehicle was registered seemed familiar and Stone couldn’t recall why.

  “What?” Axel asked.

  “Thinking . . . Something about this is wrong.”

  All of a sudden, the name made sense. The puzzle pieces slammed into place. A cold, sick dread assailed him. He felt as if someone had ripped his heart from his chest. Lily was in much more danger than he’d even imagined.

  “I don’t think Canton is the one trying to kill her.”

  Chapter Eighteen

  LILY awoke, feeling dazed. As her head lolled around on her slack neck, she pried her eyes open. Sunlight pierced the sliver of space between the curtains and stabbed her eyes. She shut them, recoiled. Where was she? Why had she fallen asleep in the middle of the day?

  She moaned and forced herself to look around the other side of the room. A cheap motel. Gold walls. Gray patterned bedspreads on the two double beds. A cracked plastic light fixture on the wall above them. A baby cried behind her and Lily tried to whirl around to the sound.

  But she couldn’t move. A startled glance down proved that she’d been restrained at the wrists and ankles to a chair with zip ties. Fear cut through the vestiges of sleep and jolted her wide-awake. Adrenaline surged through her racing blood and pumping heart.

  The last time she’d been tied to a chair, everything had ended badly.

  Lily sat up, blinked. This couldn’t be happening. How? Why? But as she tugged and pulled, trying to loosen the restraints at her wrists and ankles, she couldn’t deny that her ordeal was all too real—and terrifying. If she couldn’t wriggle free, maybe she could get on her feet, chair and all, and walk out. But when she tried to stand, the clunky chair felt bulky. Drugs still weighed down every muscle and surged through her veins. She managed to wobble upright for a few seconds before her quivering muscles gave out. Exhausted and clammy, she sagged back down.

  Who would do this to her? No one she knew would be irresponsible enough to restrain a sub and leave her unsupervised. Any good Dominant knew—

  Suddenly she remembered the Walmart. Canton. The woman with the baby. That was the fussy infant she’d heard moments ago.

  The afternoon’s events rushed back to her, especially the blonde—a stranger—saying that she and her husband were worse than Timothy Canton.

  Panic gripped her chest, stole her breath. What the hell had she gotten into? In trying to escape one evil, she’d fallen prey to another. Lily wasn’t precisely sure what
this woman and her husband had planned, but they probably intended to end their day with her horrific death.

  A door behind her opened. To the bathroom? The faucet turned on, and a female voice called to the baby. “Pretty Isabel. No crying, little love. Mommy will be right there.”

  The water turned off. A moment later, the baby’s fussy groans quieted to a staccato pout; then Emma—if that was really her name—appeared in Lily’s line of vision with the baby on her hip and a sneer on her pretty face. “I’m glad you’re awake. My husband just texted. He’ll be here soon.”

  “How do you know about Canton? What do you want with me?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “I’m not telling you anything. I promised my husband I would let him explain. He’s waited for this day for years. I won’t take the joy of his vengeance from him, you traitorous whore.”

  Lily blinked at the woman, trying to figure her out. She’d never seen Emma in her life. Was she just crazy? Had they mistaken her for someone else?

  “You must have the wrong person. I haven’t slept with anyone you should be angry about. I don’t think—”

  “I know who you are, Lily Taylor. And you’re going to get what’s coming to you. Finally.” She kissed the top of her daughter’s head and soothed her with a brush of her fingers. “I’m hoping that my husband will finally have some peace. He’s had nightmares for years. You drove him to violence and rage. He’s got PTSD. And a gaping hole in his life—because of you.”

  What the hell was this woman talking about? “Do I know your husband?”

  “And you’re stupid, too,” Emma scoffed. “I’d love to unload all my anger on you. He has the potential to be such a good man and you’ve just . . . reduced him to depression and anxiety. I came up with this plan, hoping that it will help to cure him. Nothing else has. Counseling? Ha. A waste of time and money. He didn’t need to talk about his feelings; he needs to act on them. That’s how men are, you know?”

  No, Lily really had no idea what Emma referred to. “There has to be some mistake. I’ve never willingly hurt anyone in my life.”

  “Oh, look at you, all doe-eyed and sad-faced. You can’t sway me, bitch. Canton may think that paying you off is the way to make the past disappear, and he’ll get his comeuppance shortly. He’s definitely earned it. But you’re going to pay for your treachery first. And we’re going to make you an example of why he should be very, very afraid.” Emma’s evil smile flashed wide, transmitting her obvious anticipation for whatever torture they had planned.

  “How do you know Canton?”

  She shook her head. “Oh, I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard plenty. If any man deserves to die horribly, it’s him.”

  “So . . . your husband is upset about something he thinks I did as a teenager?”

  If it had to do with Canton, her “misdeed” must have been then. She hadn’t had dealings with the man since. And the most terrible contact she’d ever had with him had been the deaths of everyone she loved.

  “Upset?” she shrieked. “Upset? No, upset is what happens when someone takes the last toothpick at a diner or steals your cab in the rain. What Canton did ruined my poor husband. It destroyed him.”

  Lily couldn’t deny that Canton had run the neighborhood without mercy and made a lot of enemies, so Emma’s rant didn’t narrow things down for her much. A lot of people hated the man. But she had no idea what that had to do with her. “I’m sorry to hear that. If you can help me understand who your husband is and what happened, I’ll do my best to talk to him when he gets here. Maybe we can find a way to heal him together.”

  Emma looked as if she was itching to spew another tirade, but she clamped her mouth shut. “I’m not saying another word, and you can’t talk your way out of this. Don’t ask me questions. I’m already plenty annoyed that I had to wait around for days for you to crawl out of that swamp. I thought we were never going to get you away from all those big, protective guys you spread your legs for. But then you strolled through Walmart like you thought you were untouchable.” The woman’s laugh chilled her with its malicious fervor. “I can’t wait for you to find out how wrong you were.”

  So yet another person knew she’d been in the swamp. As for the men she’d spread her legs for, Emma must be alluding to Stone and Axel. Or, Lily wondered, am I trying in vain to decipher a crazy woman’s ramblings? Maybe, but Emma didn’t sound insane as much as righteously mad.

  “How did you know where I fled after I left California?”

  “Please.” Emma rolled her eyes. “We’d already narrowed down that you were somewhere in Texas, but my husband found you the minute you bought that gun. He has friends. Really dangerous ones. You’ll meet them soon.” She grinned. “The second you decided that you needed to protect yourself, he was all over you. We’ve been following you, more or less, ever since.”

  If she had stayed in the swamp, she would have been safe. True, she couldn’t have lived there forever, but leaving abruptly, without being certain of her safety, should be a good life lesson for her about acting emotionally. She’d simply wanted to flee the pain and hadn’t thought the situation through. Lily already knew she would probably pay the price for letting her heartbreak rule her brain. At the time, the thought of being forced to look at—not to mention share a bed with—a man who thought nothing of digging into her soul while he stabbed her in the back had been unfathomable. Now she wanted so desperately to see Stone and tell him that, despite everything, she still had feelings for him that ran heart-deep.

  Whatever else he’d done, Stone had done his best to heal her so she could go on. He’d tried hard to repair the damage to her psyche, her backbone, and her sexuality. Until this morning, she’d believed he had the most beautiful soul she’d ever encountered. He’d certainly reached her on a level no other human being in her life ever had.

  Was that why his betrayal hurt her more than anyone else’s?

  Irrelevant now. She had to focus on getting out of these binds and escaping before Emma’s husband put in an appearance. Clearly, she was safe until he arrived because the woman wasn’t going to steal the glee of hurting and killing her from the man.

  Lily’s thoughts raced, and she tried to think of something to say that might lure the woman into giving her information that could help her out of this danger or enable her to confront the husband when he arrived, but she heard a pounding on the door.

  Startled, she gasped. Please god, let that be a miracle—someone come to save her. Because she had no idea how she was going to get out of this mess herself.

  Emma walked past her with a wide, sinister smile and headed for the front of the room. “I’ll bet that’s the party arriving.” She opened the door a crack, then gave a little squeal of delight, unlatched the chain, and threw the portal open wide. “Hi, Dan. So glad you’re here!”

  The tall, tatted guy sporting ink sleeves on both arms and more signs on his neck and shaved skull hugged her in return and grinned. “Hi, little sis.”

  Sis? Lily stared. So Dan wasn’t Emma’s husband? Apparently not. Maybe this guy was one of the “dangerous friends” the blonde had mentioned earlier.

  The big guy went on. “I drove the rest of the trek from Cali last night. Your earlier text said the guest of honor was here, and I came running.” Then he turned on Lily a startlingly pale pair of eyes that stared through her while conveying a terrifying love of violence. That expression shook her to her core. “Look, she’s already afraid. This should be fun.” He turned when he saw the motel room’s door gaping open. “Shut that. You don’t want anyone seeing what we’re up to.”

  “Oh, right.” Emma gave him a dizzy little smile. “I’m just so excited.”

  “Me, too. I found a hardware store in this Podunk town and brought some of the things you said you needed.”

  “Good. Walmart was picked over. Thanks.”

  “No sweat.” When he held up a plastic bag Lily hadn’t previously noticed, Emma grabbed it out of his hands and shifted the baby
into his arms. “And, of course, I had to come see my little Isabel. Hi, pumpkin girl. Did you miss Uncle Danny?” He cooed, gently stroking the baby’s cheek and making her flash a smile that showed off her two bottom teeth. “I think you did.”

  Lily took the sight in. If he could be that warm and gentle with a baby, there might be hope for her, right? She really prayed that whatever plot these people had in mind wasn’t half as bad as her imaginings.

  Then Emma began to pull items from the hardware store bag. “You remembered the tarp! That’s one of the most important items. I can’t believe I forgot it.”

  “And I got you the big one because I know this is going to get messy, and we don’t want to risk stains.” Dan swiveled his gaze in Lily’s direction and sent her a chilling grin.

  She shuddered. Oh god. His gentleness with the baby definitely
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