Falling in deeper, p.6
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       Falling in Deeper, p.6
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  “You have to let me go.”

  His face darkened. “Maybe Axel leaving made you believe that you’re alone or you have no one to turn to, but I’m here. If you’ll explain why the flowers scare you, I’ll fix it.”

  God, if only it were that easy. She would have laughed if she weren’t so terrified. “You can’t.”

  “Try me.” That deep voice sounded so serious, grave.

  “Sorry.”

  Lily broke free and tried to dash into her car again. He slammed the door and stood squarely in her path, obviously not intending to let her leave.

  She gripped her keys tighter. “I’ve got to go or I’ll miss my appointment.”

  “Perfect. Then you’ll have time to explain what’s frightening you enough to make you shake.”

  Why couldn’t he be like every other man and ignore her? “Don’t worry about me.”

  Stone snorted. “If you think that’s possible, you don’t know me very well. But we’ll fix that.”

  No, they wouldn’t. Lily couldn’t live with herself if Stone became another one of Timothy’s victims because of her. It would hurt every bit as bad if he turned out to be one of Canton’s goons come to do her in. Oh god. Could it be a coincidence that he and the flowers had appeared within a few minutes of each other?

  God, she didn’t know what to think.

  Stone crossed his arms over his chest and raised a challenging brow. The stare of a displeased Dom.

  “Get out of my way,” she insisted.

  “Not happening.”

  “If you’re too arrogant to hear the word ‘no,’ that’s your problem.” Lily turned her back on him, locking the car with a press of a button. She darted around the far side of the vehicle and across the nearly empty parking lot, hauling ass toward Dominion.

  She’d probably never see him again, and while that distressed her way more than it should, separating now would be better for them both, especially if he meant her harm. Even if he didn’t, he’d be all right. Eventually, he’d pair off with another woman. But that was better for him, too. And Lily would have some peace of mind that her heart would remain intact.

  When she reached Dominion’s door, she used her key card to open the lock and rushed inside, slamming the door behind her. Thorpe stood there with a watchful glower.

  “What was that about?” He frowned her way.

  “Can someone fill in for me for a few days? I’m taking a vacation,” Lily lied.

  Once she knew her few job responsibilities were fulfilled, she could be gone in less than an hour. She didn’t have much to pack back at her little apartment, just her clothes and a few treasured mementos. Then she’d start all over again. New identity, new place, new faces.

  Thorpe scowled. “Not if what you’re saying is that you’d like to avoid the protector I’ve chosen for you without giving him a try.”

  A rattling at the door startled her. It could only be Stone.

  When Thorpe reached for the handle to let him in, she shook her head frantically. “Don’t open it. Stone scares me.”

  “Any particular reason?”

  “He knows why.” Mostly. Kind of. Enough to keep them busy hashing it out while she disappeared.

  The imposing owner of the club stared at her with shrewd eyes. “Wait in Axel’s room. I’ll talk to him. If I’m satisfied with his explanation, I’ll stand right beside you until you two work it out.”

  Not on your life. “All right.”

  Now that Canton knew where she worked, Lily couldn’t put any of her friends at Dominion at risk, especially not Thorpe, Sean, and Callie. They were expecting a baby in a few months. She would just die if anything happened to them. She didn’t want to lie to Thorpe, but if she didn’t he’d only insist on solving her problem.

  As Lily headed down the hall, she heard Thorpe open the door to Stone. The club owner spoke. Stone’s voice rumbled in return. They were both straight shooters. It wouldn’t take them long to compare notes. If Stone truly sought to help her, then he, like Thorpe, would be concerned and want answers.

  Lily intended to be gone by then.

  She crept toward the back door and let herself out. The humid afternoon nearly smothered her with heat as she crept around the building and sprinted for her car. She’d give herself five minutes at her apartment to gather up what she could and hope that decision wasn’t fatal. If it was . . . well, she’d more than earned her death sentence. If she managed to make it out alive, she’d have to learn to start all over again, more alone than ever.

  Chapter Four

  WHAT the fuck is going on?” Thorpe crossed his arms over his wide chest. “Sweet Pea seemed more angry and nervous than scared when I left her in my office with you. Now she looks terrified.”

  “I think we can guess what this means.” Stone didn’t have time for Twenty Questions. He held up the card he’d fished out of the bouquet. “And exactly who would leave flowers in her car. Not just any flowers, lilies. She found them and her entire demeanor changed. She seems beyond scared and she won’t let me help her.”

  Thorpe glanced at the oblong white card. “So you didn’t leave them?”

  Stone shook his head. “And no one besides you, me, Sean, Jack, and the Edgington brothers know her real identity?”

  “No one. I have no idea how Canton suddenly found her. We have to move fast and get her into hiding. Damn it, I’d rather send her with you, but she doesn’t know you,” Thorpe pointed out. “She obviously doesn’t trust you and your past.”

  Stone stifled his disappointment and held in a curse. Somehow, he had to get past her fears.

  Lily Taylor had been dealt some tough breaks in life and she needed help. He could help her. She definitely pressed all his buttons as a female. With petite curves, she looked like a wet dream of a pinup girl. Her swing dresses, fishnets, and stilettos never failed to make him hard. Today, she’d worn her bangs in a soft twist away from her delicate face. She’d changed her hair color, and now long platinum ringlets bounced down her back, the sides held together at her crown with a bright red bow that matched her lush mouth.

  “That’s why the next two weeks are critical.” For both her and me. “You have to let me watch over her. I can keep her safe and convince her to testify.”

  Thorpe scowled like a disapproving father. “No. Until she accepts you, she’s my responsibility. I’ll handle it.”

  “She’s kept all the same dark, ugly secrets from you, too. Clearly, she doesn’t trust either of us.”

  Thorpe paused, then gritted his teeth. “Until the FBI came to Sean a few months ago and asked him to get involved, I didn’t know anything about her past. I never wanted to pry. Sweet Pea—Lily—always seemed too delicate.”

  “Or just very good at hiding her issues. I’ll get to the bottom of everything and make sure Canton doesn’t get to her. You have Callie to think about. That monster would absolutely use your woman to get what he wants.”

  Thorpe mulled that over for a long, uncomfortable moment. “He’s manipulated her using the people in her life before. Let me talk to Sweet Pea for a minute. Wait here.”

  Before he could respond, Thorpe was gone. Stone cursed. And paced. He didn’t want to be at any man’s mercy, but Thorpe could prove a formidable ally if Lily continued to be difficult. She might not have shared the details of her past with her boss, but that could be Lily’s desire to keep him safe as much as distrust. Though it chafed, Stone had to let this play out.

  He’d anticipated waiting for a while, but Thorpe charged back down the hall almost immediately. “She left, damn it. Come with me.”

  The man didn’t wait to see if he would follow, just shoved open the club’s front door and pushed his way outside. Stone barged out behind him, worried for the girl. They both stopped short at the absence of Lily’s cute little car in the lot. She’d hurled the flowers out of her vehicle, and petals of white, pink, yellow, orange, and purple dotted the blacktop like forgotten confetti.

  Thorpe shook his head.
“Axel deserves his peace, but I worry that no man can reach Lily except him.”

  “I can. She’s running scared and she needs reassurance. She also needs to understand there are consequences for acting alone when she’s in danger. I’ll make myself loud and clear.”

  Just then an electronic ding filled the air. Thorpe dug his phone from his pocket. He cursed again.

  “Damn it. That’s my reminder that Callie has an appointment with the obstetrician in thirty minutes.” He furrowed his brow.

  Personally, Stone couldn’t picture Thorpe in an office filled with pregnant women. He’d give “bull in a china shop” an all-new meaning.

  “With Canton or one of his thugs nearby, I don’t think you should leave her alone.”

  “She’s got Sean.” But Thorpe didn’t sound completely assured.

  Stone pressed him. “Do you want to take a chance with Callie’s safety?”

  “You’re right. I need to find her and stay by her side.”

  “I’ll track Lily down and text you,” Stone vowed. “I’m the one who has to convince her to testify, so you need to let me handle her from here on out. But I have to find her before she disappears.”

  “All right.” Thorpe cocked his head. “But this doesn’t give you free license to do whatever you want to Lily. If you hurt her in any way, everyone who knows and loves that girl will be so far up your ass, we’ll disembowel you with a straight pin. Got it?”

  Hurting her was the last thing he’d ever do, but no convincing Thorpe of that now. He’d just have to figure it out for himself. “As blunt as you are, there’s no way I can misunderstand.”

  “Good. I’ll expect a text soon.” The man sent him an acid smile as he straightened his suit coat. “Don’t make me hunt you down.”

  Then Thorpe was gone.

  Stone grimaced. It wasn’t as if he’d been convicted of anything close to rape or murder. In fact, if he convinced Lily to testify, he might be able to help her move beyond her past wrongs and live a full life.

  But he couldn’t lie. Those flowers—and what they implied—worried him like hell.

  Stone jerked his keys from his pocket. Where to? The gun range? Gut instinct told him no. She had her gun. Even if she wasn’t confident with it, if she believed the past was coming back to haunt her, she could well decide to flee and find safer ground. The only thing she might do before leaving town was grab some things out of her apartment. He figured he had a few minutes—tops—to catch up to her before she would be gone forever.

  He sprinted to his truck and tore out of the parking lot, running red lights and dodging cars to make it to Lily’s place. When he turned into her complex, he pulled into a well-manicured semicircular drive, then sped toward her building. As he approached, gardeners paused. A man wearing a Dodgers cap sat in a rocker on his balcony and watched, diverting his attention from his iPad to peek at the unfolding drama. Stone ignored them.

  He had to find her apartment and—without letting on that he knew her identity, which would scare the crap out of her even more—he had to win her trust enough to convince her to rely on him starting now.

  Unfortunately, he had no idea how to do that, but he’d better figure it out fast.

  * * *

  FIGHTING down panic, Lily dashed to the closet in her little efficiency. She reached for her luggage, throwing both pieces on her bed. One by one, she yanked her clothes from their hangers and snagged them from drawers, shoving them into a beat-up duffel and her small brown suitcase. She glanced at her phone. Her five minutes was nearly up. She had to grab her jewelry, shove as many of her toiletries as she could into the tote she kept in the bathroom, and flee.

  Panting, she managed all that, then scooped up her laptop, phone charger, and tablet, too. With a frantic gaze, she glanced around the little unit. What couldn’t she live without?

  She’d better take it now because she wasn’t coming back.

  After grabbing a few extra bucks she’d tucked away in a tin she kept on the kitchen counter and hoping it would be enough to see her through until she found work, she spun in a circle, searching for her purse. Finding it on the bed next to her suitcase, she stuffed the money in her wallet, then scanned the little place she’d called home since she’d moved to Dallas. She knew she was forgetting something . . .

  Kneeling, she glanced under the bed and found a box of keepsakes she’d brought from her former life. There wasn’t much: an old birthday card from her mom, a pressed corsage Erin had given her before they’d gone to the homecoming dance together since neither of them had a date, and the hospital bracelet she’d worn on one of the saddest days of her life.

  Under all that, she found a heavy book she knew as well as her own face. It slipped into her palm as if it had been made to fit there. She caressed the black velvet cover of her Vista Rio High School yearbook, fingers trailing over her name embossed on the front. That extra had been a frivolous splurge but totally worth it at the time. All her best—and worst—memories lay on these pages.

  When she flipped the tome open, the front cover creaked. She skimmed the pages of candid shots and organized activities, seeing a collection of people and places she’d once known so well. Realizing she shouldn’t but unable to resist, Lily thumbed her way through until she found a picture of Erin and her hamming it up for a pep rally. With big smiles and cheerleading skirts, she and her bestie hugged tightly, cheeks pressed together. Behind them, her friend’s big brother, Corey, photobombed them with his fingers up and his tongue out, his expression pure rock.

  Little did they know that in a few short months she would betray them terribly.

  With a frown, she slammed the book shut and shoved it in the box again. She didn’t have time to run back to her bed and curl into the fetal position. She definitely didn’t have time for this eviscerating walk down memory lane. She simply had to get the hell out.

  Lily closed all her luggage up, tugged down the blinds, and left the light on in the living room. It was only a matter of time before Canton figured out where she lived. Maybe the little table lamp would fool him or anyone he sent here to kill her that she was cozied up on the couch with a glass of chardonnay, zoned out on TV. Maybe it would buy her enough extra time to make a clean getaway.

  As she stacked up her stuff and headed for the door, she glanced out the kitchen window, which overlooked a corner of the parking lot. A black pickup she’d never seen here skidded into view, engine revving. Her heart stopped.

  Stone.

  Her time was up. If she didn’t hurry, she would be too late to make her escape.

  And they would both be dead.

  Chapter Five

  STONE sped through the parking lot, looking for Lily’s unit. The big, multibuilding complex was spread out over a wide area with a meandering road in the middle. Damn it, where was she? He didn’t see her car, either.

  After driving to the exit, he turned around and trolled the parking lot again, this time checking down all the side paths for her car. If she had come here to pack up, she wouldn’t be far from that little yellow vehicle.

  Craning his head to see down a smaller lane to the right, he caught sight of a bright, sunny color. He burned rubber and hauled ass to get there.

  “C’mon. C’mon . . .” He prayed it was Lily’s car. Because if he couldn’t find her, he’d have to hunt her down, which probably meant heading for the Keys and hoping he could figure out which of the seventeen hundred islands she might have fled to. What a fucking nightmare.

  As he skidded around the corner, he saw her hustling toward the little Bug, rolling a suitcase. She also carried a duffel on one shoulder and another big tote on the other. In her hands, she struggled to hold a clearly heavy box.

  Suddenly, as she stepped over a curb she couldn’t see, she tripped. The box tumbled out of her hands and clattered to the concrete. She fell to her knees. The tote slid down her left arm. The duffel cut into her right. The keys fell from her fingers and skittered across the lot.

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nbsp; She leapt to her feet and started gathering everything again. The fear and defeat on her face stabbed Stone square in the chest. But he gave Lily credit. She swallowed back her tears, then shoved the contents of the box back inside and rearranged her luggage,
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