Falling in deeper, p.4
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       Falling in Deeper, p.4
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  against the warmth of his substantial body and into the fantasy of being normal enough to interest a man who seemed both incredibly masculine and kind. And god, he smelled good.

  Lily gathered her nerve and slid her hand down his shoulder, over the defined muscles covered in ink. He must have a high threshold for pain. She’d screamed and held in sobs through the first twenty minutes of her lone tattoo.

  Pushing that memory away, she focused on his kiss. On him.

  She wrapped her hands around the mind-boggling girth of his biceps and trembled, pressing closer. He grabbed her tighter, his fingers sliding down her nape as he gave her lip a playful nip, pressed a kiss just under her jaw, and smoothed a palm around the curve of her hip.

  She wanted to ask him to peel his shirt off just so she could drink him in. She’d bet the sight would make her daydreamy and tingly. He certainly knew how to kiss. With a simple press of his fingers, he guided her head back, then shifted the angle of the kiss, maneuvering her into opening completely to him. Little by little, Lily found herself willing to cede her control.

  “That’s enough.” Zeb’s hard voice from the doorway broke their cocoon. The lights had returned, illuminating his scowl. “Axel promised you a meeting, not a gropefest. Let her go.”

  Stone stiffened but pulled back, looking into her eyes as he pushed one of her chestnut and fuchsia curls from her face. “You okay?”

  A half-drunk smile wobbled across her mouth. “Yeah.”

  She slid to her feet, but he wrapped an arm around her as if he didn’t trust her legs to hold her upright. Good instinct. The second she tried to stand, her shaking thighs wobbled. A druglike weakness still pumped through her veins, infecting her muscles. And when she looked at him, she could hardly catch her breath.

  He sent a megawatt smile down at her. “You look pretty with your cheeks flushed and your lips swollen.”

  Lily felt pretty, too. She felt like a woman, not a broken responsibility someone always had to pick up and care for.

  “I don’t know what you did to me but . . .” She sighed, unable to put this feeling into words. It felt like those times as a girl she’d gone to the park and put her arms out, spinning around and around until she’d fallen down, giggling and happy.

  “Something I can’t wait to do again, baby. Let me take you to dinner.”

  That sobered her up a bit. She blinked. “I-I’m supposed to be working. I came in to see Axel tonight but when we decided he should move on, I asked Thorpe if he needed me. I have a few tasks to complete. Sorry.”

  Stone didn’t say anything for a long minute, just brought her closer to him and drilled down into her with a dark stare that made her knees threaten to give way. “How about this weekend? I’ll drive out. We can eat and talk. Or we can stay here and talk. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable.”

  “I’d like that.” She tried not to let her giddiness show too much. Maybe he’d even kiss her again.

  “I want to see you more, Sweet Pea. Tell me what will set you most at ease.”

  “I’m not really sure. I mostly saw Axel here.”

  “Since you two didn’t date. Got it.” When she nodded her agreement, he slanted a speculative glance her way. “But he was your Dom?”

  She swallowed. Would that turn Stone off? “And my protector. He helped me feel safe.”

  “Didn’t you say he just left you?” He sounded annoyed on her behalf.

  She’d let Axel go with a heavy heart, knowing she had to stop dragging him down. “It was time. I’m fine.”

  Lily knew she might be lying. She wouldn’t pine for Axel as a lover. But she would very much miss her friend.

  “I should be a good guy and tell you I can wait until you’re sure. But after that kiss, I don’t even know if I can wait three days to see you again. I don’t know if I’ll stop thinking about you between now and then.”

  She didn’t think she would stop thinking about him either but hearing him say that made her feel so coveted.

  “Here.” Lily plucked out a pen from the deep pocket of her full skirt and reached for his hand. She dragged the ballpoint across his palm and wrote her number in purple ink. “Call me if you feel like it. Okay?”

  “I will.” And despite Zeb’s glare, Stone leaned in and brushed a lingering kiss on her lips. “Be thinking about what you want to do Saturday because I will come for you.”

  She merely smiled his way. He gave her one last heated glance and turned, heading for the exit. Zeb watched him leave and shut the door behind Stone with a shake of his head.

  “What’s with the disapproving-brother bit?” Lily frowned at Zeb, fists on her hips. “I know you and Axel are friends, but I’m not cheating on him or anything. We were never exclusive.” Axel had merely watched over her and kept away any man who came on too aggressively or clearly had a booty-call agenda.

  “That guy, Sutter? He isn’t good for you.” Zeb scowled, his mouth twisting under that infamous dark beard of his.

  “Why would you say that? He seemed nice.”

  “He buttered you up with compliments.”

  Was Zeb saying she didn’t deserve them and had been dumb enough to fall for his lies? “He came all the way from Lafayette to see me.”

  “And he damn near peeled your clothes off, too. He knows you aren’t with Ax anymore. I don’t want him thinking that means you’re not surrounded by people who will step in if he crosses the line.”

  Now Zeb was being beyond overprotective. Stone would have stopped with just a word from her. “What do you think he’d do to me?”

  “With his kind, you never know. But I’m watching him. I’ll make sure Thorpe does, too.”

  Lily reared back. “This is the first time I’ve liked a guy. Romantically liked. And you’re trying to scare me away from him?”

  He shrugged. “You’re better off without that dude. Since he just came from the big house, I assume that means he plays in the big leagues. I don’t think you’re ready for that.”

  “The big house?” He couldn’t have meant what Lily thought he had.

  “Yeah. He’s a fucking felon fresh out of prison. Some of the guys around here might pull a prank now and then or party a little harder than they should, but no one breaks laws. I heard he beat the shit out of some guy while he was away and got put in solitary for a month. He’s bad news.”

  Stone was an ex-con? A criminal?

  Lily gaped, trying to reconcile the man she’d just kissed, the one who’d made her feel special, with a violent thug who’d spent time behind bars.

  Canton was the worst sort of offender. He’d just been smart enough never to be convicted. And he surrounded himself with the violent gangbangers who liked a side of rape with their murder. Was Zeb saying Stone was the same?

  Her entire body iced over. She stumbled, falling onto the bench.

  In her pocket, her phone began to vibrate. Lily pulled it free and glanced at the display. A number she didn’t recognize, area code 337. Lafayette. Most everyone who lived there and would call her she’d programmed into her contact list so their name would pop up on her display. This was just a number, and her spine tingled, telling her that Stone was already ringing.

  A criminal. A felon. A man who, under that smiling facade and polite demeanor, might be capable of terrible, heinous acts that would give her nightmares for another half dozen years to come.

  Trembling and holding in a cry, she declined his call.

  Chapter Three

  MISTY?” Thorpe stood in the doorway later that morning, yanking her from the bittersweet memories of her one meeting with Stone and bringing her back to the present.

  When she heard the name that it had become almost second nature to answer to, she spun around. Years ago, Lily had picked it because that’s what she’d called her cat and she’d hoped she would remember to answer to something familiar.

  Thorpe looked every inch the imposing authority figure in a perfectly tailored navy suit, with a well-groomed dark beard fra
ming his hard jaw, and gray eyes that saw everything. From the beginning, Lily had almost regarded Thorpe as a father figure. And the expression on his face now told her that he had something serious to say.

  She tensed. “Yes, Sir.”

  He raised a brow at her sudden formality but didn’t otherwise mention it. He simply shut the door behind him and entered the playroom. “Callie says you haven’t been sleeping at home?”

  She should have guessed that her concerned friend would say something to her Dom and Lily’s boss. “I’m sure it will pass. I’m sorry for napping on the job.”

  Unless she saw that guy who seemed to be following her again or anything else suspicious. If that happened, she probably wouldn’t close her eyes for a week. She would also need to disappear from Dallas. Better safe than dead.

  Thorpe sighed as he came closer. “I’m not angry that you slept, Sweet Pea. I’m worried about the reasons you’re not sleeping in the first place. Is there anything you want to talk about?”

  And potentially bring the violent wrath of Timothy Canton down on his head? “No.”

  She could probably tell him that she feared she’d been followed, but then she’d have to tell him why that possibility terrified her. And they’d be right back to talking about Timothy Canton. Besides, she’d bought a gun this morning. In an hour she’d be starting the gun-safety class she’d registered for. She damn well intended to become self-sufficient.

  “You’ve struggled since Axel paired off with Mystery. He didn’t want to leave you for this long. Was I wrong to encourage him to spend time away with his fiancée?”

  “Not at all. I’m no longer his responsibility.”

  “No,” he agreed. “You’re mine now, and I’ve done a poor job of understanding your needs. Talk to me.”

  She was not a child and shouldn’t need his guidance. He didn’t have the time or energy for her. Most of all, she didn’t want to spill her guts to someone who wouldn’t be a permanent fixture in her life. The part that involved Canton was too dangerous. The rest was simply too painful.

  “Thorpe, Sir . . . I appreciate your help but it’s just a patch of insomnia.”

  “So the perpetually long face, the avoiding outings with the others at the club, the episode with the half bottle of vodka last week . . . That was all you being perfectly happy and well-adjusted?”

  Lily hated that even when she thought she’d slipped something past Thorpe, he still saw. Axel had asked him to watch over her because sometimes she felt overwhelmed. And god knew she’d made some terrible decisions in the past.

  She sighed. “I’m a little lonely but otherwise fine. I want Axel to be happy. I’ve missed him but he’s better off, and I’m thrilled he’s found someone.”

  “So you’re lonely?” Thorpe appeared to mull that over.

  Slowly, she nodded. Why did she feel as if she’d just walked into a trap?

  “Since you’ve eschewed all the girl time Callie has tried to talk you into this summer, I’m going to guess it’s not female companionship you’re missing. Before his departure, Axel asked me to be responsible for your physical safety and emotional welfare.”

  Oh, this couldn’t be good. “You don’t have to take care of me. I’m a grown woman.”

  “But Axel provided you with guidance and helped you out with whatever you needed. That’s what you’ve been missing this summer. So I’ve been thinking these last few days about a new protector for you, one who can mentor you and devote far more time to you than I’m able.”

  Her heart froze. Lily wasn’t sure how she felt about that when she couldn’t be honest with him about virtually anything . . . and she couldn’t exorcise Stone Sutter from her thoughts. He’d been the cause of her summer malaise. Sure, she missed Axel . . . but she’d never stopped thinking about that kiss Stone had given her or wondering what could have been between them if she weren’t so afraid of his violent past.

  Someone new might be good for her but . . . “I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

  Maybe she could play the fragile card and put Thorpe off. But for how long? And how could she move on with her life if she didn’t change anything in it? She and Axel had both needed their time together to be over for different reasons. Granted, she wasn’t doing well alone. When she made emotional decisions, they usually turned out the worst. Maybe Thorpe was right and she needed a distraction so she could finally purge Stone from her yearnings.

  “I think you are. I know a man who could be good for you. Why don’t you meet him, spend time with him? Maybe you could try opening up. He might make you happy. If not . . .” He shrugged. “We’ll reevaluate. But give him a couple weeks and genuinely try before you walk away.”

  Lily sighed. Thorpe’s interference made her bristle, but he—and Axel—only wanted what was best for her. And she had been desperately lonely, even before his departure. If she considered Thorpe’s proposition like a blind date, it might work. If it didn’t, she’d have a funny story to tell. “All right. I’ll try.”

  “Good. Remember, he can only help you as much as you let him.”

  Every word Thorpe said was true. Axel had proven that. He had been extremely patient and dragged information out of her over time. As she’d come to trust him, her sense of security had grown. Over and over, he’d proven himself to be solid. Some of her evenings with Axel had been her happiest, even if they hadn’t been romantic and she hadn’t been emotionally fulfilled. She’d felt safe. To Lily, that meant the world.

  Though she wasn’t sure she wanted a new mentor and protector, she probably needed one.

  “You’re right, Sir.” She stared at the decorative concrete beneath her feet and wondered who Thorpe thought would be good for her. Zeb? That new guy whose name she couldn’t remember? Someone else entirely?

  Thorpe held out his hand. “Come with me.”

  Now? She blinked up. Resolution firmed Thorpe’s features. He wasn’t the sort to put off until tomorrow what he could accomplish today. She should have realized that if he’d bothered with a speech, he was ready to execute his plan.

  With a wry smile, Lily slid her palm into his and savored the moments of comfort. Being with the big club owner really did feel like having a father figure she could trust. Since her own dad had run out when she was four, it was nice.

  Together, they walked down the hall to Thorpe’s office. Inside, she spotted Sean leaning against the wall beside Thorpe’s empty leather “throne” on the far side of the room. In a chair facing the desk, she saw another man from the back, one with buzzed dark hair and strong, wide shoulders.

  He began to spin around in his chair. Combat boots and long legs encased in faded jeans came into view first. A solid torso wrapped in a gray T-shirt appeared, rippling with every move. Inked biceps caught her gaze, along with veined forearms and big hands. He radiated formidable power.

  Without even seeing his face, Lily knew exactly who’d come.

  Stone Sutter.

  His nearness sent a hot flush rushing from her toes to her cheeks.

  She jerked a stunned glance up at Thorpe and yanked her hand away. The man almost never made mistakes, because he considered everything carefully before he acted. But he couldn’t possibly have thought this through. If he had, he would never have paired her off with a felon who made no secret of the fact that he wanted inside her panties.

  “No.” She shook her head.

  Stone swiveled to face her, and their eyes met for an electric moment. She felt dizzy and overwhelmed. Her knees weakened. Even being this close to him messed with her head.

  Thorpe’s face hardened. “Why not?”

  A mere six feet away, Stone stood, his stare fused to her. He nodded in greeting. “Sweet Pea.”

  She didn’t acknowledge him, just backed away, unable to tear her gaze free. “I can’t.”

  Felons weren’t good guys. They raped and murdered and laughed as they disposed of a girl’s body like the contents of the kitchen garbage.

  “Not two mi
nutes ago, you promised that you would try,” Thorpe reminded her with a raised brow. “Now that you know who’s agreed to take you in hand, you’re refusing? Explain.”

  “We don’t suit.” For so many reasons. She needed a friend who
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