Falling in deeper, p.5
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       Falling in Deeper, p.5
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  would be by her side and provide a willing ear when needed, not a man who complicated everything. Stone’s past aside, the man lit up every cell in her body in a way she didn’t know how to process or fight.

  “That wasn’t the impression I got when I kissed you.” Stone prowled closer.

  Lily couldn’t decide if she wanted to blush furiously or punch him. Instead, she ignored him altogether and sent an imploring glance to Sean before whirling back to Thorpe. “He scares me.”

  “Why?” Stone asked. “Did I do more than kiss you when we met?”

  Lily pressed her lips together. Thorpe didn’t object to Stone’s line of questioning, merely looked at her as if he was damn interested in her answer, too.

  “No,” she admitted.

  “Did I force you to kiss me?”

  “No. But I—”

  “Felt like a woman when you were with me and wanted more, which made you run scared?” he challenged. “Lie to me and tell me I’m wrong.”

  A vague shame sliced through her composure. While he wasn’t far off the mark, it wasn’t the whole truth. He couldn’t possibly understand that.

  “Can I talk to you for a moment alone?” she asked Thorpe.

  If she could explain his criminal past, surely Thorpe would understand.

  He didn’t say anything at first, merely glanced at her and Stone, then peered over to Sean in silent question. Callie’s other man apparently answered in that wordless dude language Lily couldn’t grasp.

  “No,” Thorpe finally said. “You swore earlier that you’d give someone new a couple of weeks. You haven’t even given him a couple of minutes.”

  She couldn’t deny that but . . . “Please. Don’t.”

  Was it possible he already knew Stone’s past? It wasn’t like Thorpe not to perform his due diligence. Lily sighed. Maybe she was overreacting. Or maybe Zeb had been mistaken.

  Maybe she should give Stone another try.

  “Two questions. That’s all I want to ask you,” she promised.

  Thorpe shook his head. “Ask him first. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, then I’ll see you. But don’t come to me if you’re not trying. I’m giving you tough love because I care.”

  He headed for his office door.

  Sean followed, pausing just before he crossed the threshold. “If you want more in life, you have to take chances, Misty. Happiness isn’t easy and it doesn’t fall in your lap. You have to grab it, take it down, and make it yours. It’s time you did that.”

  Lily didn’t have firsthand knowledge but she suspected they were right, which only made Stone’s presence more confusing. Maybe he would be the best thing ever for her. It was also possible he could finally be the one who put her six feet under.

  They both turned their backs on her, and Stone trailed the men, shutting the door behind them, cutting her off from her friends and only possible escape route.

  She and the only man she’d ever actually desired were alone.

  Tough love was scary.

  Her heart thundered. Even her breath trembled in and out of her lungs. “Let me out.”

  “Not until you explain why you’ve been dodging me for three months. I kissed you and asked you on a date. You agreed. Ten minutes later, you acted as if I wasn’t even on the same planet. What happened?” He glared, and it felt like the worst of Axel’s displeasure but with far more censure and impact.

  “You’re not my Dom. You’re not even a Dom at all, so don’t use that expression on me.”

  “See, that’s where you’re wrong, baby. For the last three months, I’ve been training with Jack Cole and Logan Edgington. Yeah, your friends. They both think I’d be good for you. Thorpe and Sean obviously do as well, which is why they’ve asked me to watch over you, give you friendship, support, advice, and . . . whatever else you need. Knowing all that, are you really going to keep fighting the pull between us? Can you truly say you’re happy with the status quo?”

  No, but she didn’t need his questions confusing her right now. May as well go for the truth, get it out in the open, and call him on it. If he did something violent, hopefully Thorpe and Sean weren’t too far away to hear her scream. “I’m not too afraid of whatever pull you think we have. It’s why I let you kiss me. Then I found out about your past. I know you came from prison.”

  Understanding lit his face. “You’re right. Let’s talk about it.”

  “I’ve seen enough violence to last me a lifetime. I don’t need someone who lives by it.”

  “I’m not a violent man, unless provoked.” He cocked his head. “You have no idea why I went to prison, do you?”

  “You’re a felon. You beat the crap out of someone so badly they gave you solitary confinement.”

  “That’s true.”

  He didn’t even try to deny it. Lily was shocked.

  “But you’ve also got some very selective information. I went down for a computer-related crime. I played a college prank on an asshole who’d stolen money from my widowed grandmother and bragged about it. So, with the help of a couple of friends, I set up an e-mail scam until he coughed up the same amount of money he’d taken. Then I returned it to her.”

  “That doesn’t sound like a felony,” she accused with narrowed eyes.

  “It wasn’t until the buddies who helped me set up the scheme and I all decided it might be an easy way to make some cash and get out from under our student loans. One of my frat brothers worked at a bank and figured out how to get the account numbers and e-mail addresses of multimillionaires, as well as open temporary accounts. I was the technical guy who created the false messages to bilk them out of money, intercepted the funds as they were being transferred, and diverted them to temporary accounts. Then another pal figured out how to siphon the funds out and turn them into clean, liquid cash through some of his connections. Collectively, we needed to raise about half a million dollars to be debt-free, which we did by the start of our senior year. We successfully laundered money and were set to graduate without owing anyone anything. But we got greedy and decided to pull one more cycle to start our futures with a cushion.” He shrugged. “I’m not proud of what I did. My only defense is that I was young and stupid and entitled. I paid for it. I did twenty-two months of hard time. I learned my lesson. As for the guy I beat the shit out of? That was purely for my pleasure. He was a child pornographer.”

  Lily blinked at his explanation. If that was all true . . . She didn’t know how to feel. He really wasn’t violent? He wasn’t like Canton?

  “I would have beat the shit out of the child pornographer, too.” The words slipped from her lips.

  He smiled and let out a breath, relaxing a bit. “I would never hurt you.”

  Those words raised her red flags. Where had she heard that before? Oh, yeah. Canton. And maybe she was being too suspicious by throwing Stone in the same realm as her tormentor from her teenage years. On the other hand, if she’d been more cautious seven years ago, her mom and brother, Brady, would still be alive. So would Erin. Being too trusting once had cost her everything.

  She had no way of corroborating Stone’s story without talking to Thorpe. And did he know anything beyond what Stone had told him?

  On the other hand, would Axel have condoned their initial meeting back in May if he’d thought for an instant that Stone would hurt her?

  Never. At least he wouldn’t have if he’d known better . . .

  Damn it, she was confusing herself. She didn’t really like making snap decisions without time to think things through. She liked to doodle and do yoga to sort through her thoughts and feelings before she acted. She did not do her best ruminating when she was being pressured and a six-foot-plus mountain of man stared at her as if he expected a response.

  “I need to go. I have an appointment I can’t miss.” It wasn’t a lie . . . just not the whole truth.

  “We’re not done talking.” He sidled closer. “Give me a chance to prove I’m exactly who and what I say. Let me show you that I have
your best interests at heart.”

  Even if he was “only” a thief, that didn’t make him necessarily safe. She feared that, if she let him, he could steal her heart.

  But what if she were letting the best thing that ever happened to her pass her by?

  Lily bit her lip. “How about if I promise to call you tonight when I’m done with my appointment?”

  He eased closer still, now disconcertingly close, and brushed a curl from her face. Even that light caress made her tingle. “I’d rather be waiting here when you get back. We need to talk this out, baby.”

  By then, she might have spoken to Thorpe and heard something that would give her peace of mind. Didn’t she owe it to everyone who’d been trying to help her for years to at least try a new path?

  She grimaced. “If you want what’s best for me, why are you rushing me?”

  “Because I know what’s between us isn’t something you find every day. The attraction I feel for you is not like anything I’ve ever experienced. I like you. You’re sweet and sexy. I know you called yourself a project. I like a challenge. We’ll take anything physical as slow as you want, but I won’t accept you refusing to talk to me. If it makes you feel safer, we’ll only see one another here. But we will get to know each other. You will do your best to open up to me.”

  “All right.” Lily couldn’t effectively argue when he made some really good points. “When I come back, we’ll talk.”

  He let out another breath he’d been holding. “Tell me about your appointment.”

  She thought about lying but realized she’d already told Thorpe the truth. If they compared notes and discovered she was already being dishonest, it wouldn’t go well. “Gun-safety class.”

  “When did you buy a gun?”

  “This morning.”

  His eyes narrowed. “Why?”

  “A girl can never be too careful,” she said flippantly because the truth was too dangerous for him and everyone else.

  “Why don’t I go with you?” he suggested.

  Lily didn’t think she could successfully fire a gun at a target fifty yards away with him breathing down her neck. “You promised we would only see each other here at Dominion so I would feel safe.”

  He gnashed his teeth, clearly not thrilled that she’d used his own logic against him. “At least let me walk you to your car.”

  Even though being near him made her nervous, she had no graceful way to refuse, so she nodded.

  When Stone opened the office door, Lily had to brush past him. She couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. Her stomach knotted as she all but dashed down the hall. She felt him right behind her, hovering and possessive. Desire poured off him, burning her skin, making her body tremble and her breath catch.

  Somehow, she had to put distance between them. Otherwise, she feared he would rattle her enough to turn her upside down and inside out. Then, in five minutes flat, she might be on her back, legs spread, and desperately infatuated with someone way more underhanded and worldly than she would ever be.

  Lily hightailed it to the parking lot, blanketed by the worst of the August heat, and sprinted for her little yellow Volkswagen. When she neared the driver’s-side door, she clicked the fob to unlock it and prepared to duck inside.

  His voice stopped her where she stood. “What time will you be back?”

  Lily closed her eyes, overwhelmed by another wave of uncertainty. When would she stop distrusting people and figure out how to embrace something that looked like a future? “I still don’t think this is a good idea.”

  Stone stalked toward her, the gentle concern on his face nearly buckling her knees. “We discussed this. I won’t ever force you to do anything but talk to me. I’ll always hope you want to give me more, but I intend to get inside your head and give you what you need.”

  Damn it, his deep voice did something to her. She shouldn’t want him. Too dangerous. She shouldn’t get tangled up with him. Too problematic.

  “I can’t even tell you how much I think you’ll be hurting me.”

  Those dark eyes of his seemed to take her apart without a word. Before she could stop him, he brushed his thumb over her bottom lip. “I can’t even tell you how much I think you’re wrong.”

  For a wild moment, her heart stopped, then began drumming in a frenzied beat. The fluttery, feminine part of her wanted to throw her arms around him, rub up against him, and take the passion he so obviously burned to give her. But as much as he made her ache in places she tried to ignore, she feared wanting him. Even if he wasn’t a criminal in the violent sense of the word, she wouldn’t know what to do with a man like Stone Sutter.

  “I’ve explained my past,” he went on. “You didn’t seem opposed to spending time with me when Axel arranged our introduction a few months back. What’s changed?”

  Maybe she just needed to give him a bit of honesty to make him leave.

  “I think you’re too much for me to handle.” Lily jerked away and wrenched her car door open. She leaned in to toss her purse on the passenger’s seat and hop inside.

  She opened her mouth to say more, but a bouquet of flowers on the driver’s seat stopped her cold. The familiar, pungent scent of its blossoms overpowered her nostrils.

  Every last bloom was some sort of lily.

  As if she’d seen a snake coiled on the seat, she gasped and jumped back, heart pounding. She sent a terrified stare Stone’s way. “Did you leave these?”

  That would be the simplest explanation, the one that wouldn’t freak her out so much. Whether he had come here to take her under his wing or simply to sweet-talk her into bed, maybe he’d brought this bouquet to ease his way.

  But the flowers most associated with funerals? The flowers for which she was actually named?

  He peeked inside the vehicle and plucked at the colorful arrangement wrapped in plastic. His expression changed, and he looked ready to beat the hell out of someone. “No. Do you have another man in your life?”

  “I don’t have any man in my life.”

  “That’s no longer true.” Stone pulled her into his arms. “Who would leave you a message that he wants to bury the past?”

  When their bodies made contact, Lily realized she trembled from head to toe. As afraid as she’d been of Stone just minutes ago, now he made her feel infinitely safer. But she forced herself to pull away and tried to tamp down the panic. She had to think logically. Whoever had broken into her car to leave the flowers had done so in the past few hours. Had that person been the one watching her lately?

  “What did you say?” she asked.

  He held a little card between two fingers. In neat black pen, someone had written LET’S BURY THE PAST FOR GOOD.

  Lily slapped a hand over her mouth. The note hadn’t been signed, but the only person she shared a terrible past with was a killer, and he wasn’t the sort to extend an olive branch. No amount of time would change the fact that his definition of burying the past would be to put her in the cold, hard ground.

  Oh god, Timothy Canton had found her.

  What if he or one of his hired goons had been watching her lately, waiting for the chance to off her?

  “I-I don’t want to be late. I need to leave,” she told Stone.

  But where should she go? To her gun-safety class? Or, better yet, the freeway heading eastbound? If she drove all afternoon and through the night, she could be more than halfway to Florida. According to her Internet searches, the Keys were a good place to disappear.

  “Talk to me.” Stone burst in on her thoughts. “You’re obviously afraid of something.”

  So many things, it would probably make him laugh.

  “I’m fine,” Lily lied. Yes, he might protect her from her past—for a price—but who would protect her from him? Even if he meant her no harm, a man as capable and masculine as Stone wouldn’t want a woman who jumped at every shadow and wasn’t good in bed. Besides, she refused to put him—or anyone—in danger again.

  She managed to fumble halfway into the
little car and set her purse down. The cloying odor of the flowers made her stomach heave. It reminded her of everything she’d lost and would never have again. It underscored the fact that someone wanted to kill her.

  Stone grabbed her by the waist and pulled her out, turning her to face him. “You’re not fine, and lying to me doesn’t help either of us. You’re afraid of the flowers. Why? Who sent them?”

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