Falling in deeper, p.7
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       Falling in Deeper, p.7
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         Part #11 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black

  refusing to let the setback stop her.

  Stone was even more determined not to give her a second opportunity to flee from him.

  As she finally reclaimed everything she’d dropped, he jerked to a stop sideways behind her Volkswagen, blocking her exit. He shoved his extended cab into park and hopped out. She caught sight of him, then started racing for her car.

  He dove for her keys, but Lily realized what he intended and dropped everything again. Because she was closer, she managed to scoop them up first. He could have taken them from her but that wasn’t going to build her trust.

  “No.” She shook her head adamantly. “Let me go.”

  “Don’t leave.”

  “I have to.”

  “I know you think you’re in danger. Someone from your past, right? You don’t want him to catch you or put anyone you care about at risk.”

  Her big eyes widened with surprise. “How did you—”

  “I was born but it wasn’t yesterday, baby. Let me help you.” He reached for her.

  “How do I know you’re not involved? You seem to understand this situation pretty well and you just got out of prison.” She stood and gripped her tote, then began backing away. “Don’t come near me.”

  Stone sent her a reassuring stare. “I have nothing to do with anyone trying to scare you. Hell, Jack Cole got me out of prison to help solve a cybercrime.”

  “Did Axel know that?”


  “Then I don’t trust you.”

  Clearly she’d been deeply attached to Axel, and that made Stone jealous as hell. “If you don’t believe anything else, then believe I’m here to help you.”

  Lily shook her head and gathered her scattered belongings again. “It’s not that simple. You don’t understand how ruthless this monster is. It’s better if I go. Tell Thorpe and Axel I said good-bye,” she choked out. “Thank them for everything.”

  When she tried to dash past him, he snagged her arm, holding her just tight enough to make her stay. “Baby, let me help you.”

  “You can’t. Besides, you look at me like you’d ultimately want sex in return. I don’t like it and I’m no good at it.”

  “Whoa.” He held up his hands. “I never said anything about an exchange of protection for sex.”

  She kept on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Sometimes in bed I freak out or cry or . . . God, I need to stop babbling and get out of town.”

  As Lily darted for her car, Stone filed away that assessment of her sexual prowess and blocked her path. “Don’t run. No strings. I promise.”

  “Then why would you bother?”

  Stone tried to think through his answer fast. The truth—that he needed her to testify—would scare the hell out of her right now. He certainly couldn’t tell her that he wanted her so badly it was fucking with his brainpan because that would freak her out, too. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave him with much. “I can’t stand to see you terrified, and I promised Thorpe I’d keep you safe.”

  “If you don’t want sex, you feel sorry for me, and I can’t handle that. Just let me go before this guy finds you with me. He’ll kill you. He’ll kill us both.” She looked ready to beg. “Please move your truck. Otherwise I’ll jump the curb and drive over the grass to get away.”

  Her little car wouldn’t make it, but Stone would bet she’d give it a hell of a try. And he was running out of options. The last one he had up his sleeve pissed him off but if it worked, he’d get over himself.

  “Be logical. The person who left those flowers isn’t a nice guy, right?”

  If anything, she paled more as she shook her head. “No.”

  “I’m going to venture that he might even be some sort of criminal.”

  Lily pressed her lips together. Her chin trembled as she fought her fear. “The worst.”

  From everything he’d been told, Canton was a sociopathic prick who deserved a place of honor in the ninth circle of hell. “You don’t know anything about being a criminal.”

  “I know about running from one.”

  He’d give her that. She’d managed to keep herself alive for the past seven years. “But do you want to keep running for the rest of your life? How long before it wears you down? How much longer do you want to keep leaving family and friends to start over, all alone?”

  His words seemed to slice at her heart, and he hated the way tears filled her eyes. “I don’t have a choice.”

  “You do. Maybe it takes a criminal to think like one.”

  She glanced up at him in surprise, as if that thought had never occurred to her. Then she frowned. “You said you’re not a violent person.”

  “Prison teaches a man a lot about the lengths he’ll go to in order to stay alive.”

  “You can’t kill him.” Her voice trembled.

  If Canton had frightened Lily this much, then it would be Stone’s pleasure. “I can outsmart him, find other ways to make him disappear. Let me handle this.”

  “Why would you want to?”

  “Do you want to have this conversation again or start making a dent in the problem? You don’t owe me sex, and I don’t pity you. Can we leave it there for now?”

  Lily paused, looking torn, like she wanted to say yes but didn’t want to drag him into her nightmare.

  “Baby,” he crooned. “Don’t worry about me. Whoever he is—and you can tell me about him later—I got this. I’ll keep you safe.”

  She still didn’t jump on his offer. Normally, Stone would appreciate that she was thoughtful and logical and wasn’t about to let him bulldoze her. Today, it was damn inconvenient.

  “It’s my problem,” she murmured.

  And she didn’t want to be a burden. He understood. All too often, he had a bitch of a time asking for help himself. “You’re in over your head.”

  Lily let out a breath as if she couldn’t deny that. “I don’t know how long this will take. You can’t put your life on hold—”

  “Let me worry about that. It’s handy that the men I work for refuse to leave a woman in danger when they can help. I agree with them. Call me old-fashioned. Or a caveman. They’re both true. Let’s go.” He retrieved the bulky box she’d dropped earlier and dragged the duffel off her shoulder. “Bring your tote and get in the truck.”

  Finally, reluctantly, she nodded. “Thanks. I don’t have much, but I’ll pay—”

  “You don’t owe me a dime.” Ire surged. He felt his face tense, his jaw firm into a hard line. “And I don’t want to argue about it.”

  This time when he gestured her to the truck, she nodded. “Thanks.” As he set the items he’d taken from her into the covered bed, she set the tote on the floorboard of the passenger’s seat. “Can you back your truck up a few feet? I need to move my car or it will get towed. I’d rather make sure Thorpe gets it in case the next sad sack he takes in needs wheels.”

  Stone saw the sign that proclaimed her car sat in a fifteen-minute spot. “Yeah, but if you run, I’ll hunt you down. Think long and hard about how that will end.”

  Lily scowled. “I’m going with you because it makes sense and you’re right about being in over my head. You’re supposedly with the good guys. You say you don’t want sex and you don’t pity me. That’s great. You also don’t own me.”

  Not yet, but the day wasn’t over.

  “In order for me to protect you, you’re going to have to listen to me and follow directions without question. You know how to do that.” He raised a brow at her.

  And it burned him that Axel had taught her.

  She flushed, then lowered her gaze. Something about the gesture made him hard as hell. His entire body tightened, lungs squeezed. An ache for her that had been coiled deep for months began to unfurl. Stone forced himself to breathe. Now wasn’t the time for this.

  “I do,” she admitted softly.

  “Now move your car. I’ll follow and watch.”

  Keys in hand, she headed to her little yellow Bug, skirt swishing with the breeze. He backed away and g
ave her enough space to move her vehicle from the side of the building, into an assigned spot under an overhang. He frowned when she stepped out of the car, then dashed back to his truck and reached into her tote. “The complex issued new parking tags yesterday. I need to hang it from my rearview mirror or they’ll tow me before I can mail my keys to Thorpe.” But it wasn’t a hangtag she pulled from her bag; it was a shiny new gun. Lily pointed it in his face. “The guy who’s after me knows what my car looks like. Get out and give me your keys.”

  So she could disappear alone? “Not a chance, baby. You won’t shoot me.”

  “You don’t know how determined I am,” she insisted. “I’ll do it. I—”

  A deafening explosion rent the air as a ball of orange fire burst and swelled. Heart hammering, he whirled around in time to see the blaze roar and belch while it swallowed Lily’s car whole.

  Chapter Six

  AS they sped away from Dallas, Stone dug into his pocket for his cell phone. Beside him, Lily had thankfully stopped trembling and had fallen silent. That fucking bomb had changed everything, and after mentally scrambling for a plan, he’d told her they were headed to Louisiana and he wouldn’t hear any more arguments. She’d shoved a pair of buds in her ears, retreating into herself to deal, and stared out the window in silence as the scenery zipped by.

  Holding in a sigh, he dialed Jack, who answered on the first ring. “What the fuck is going on? Thorpe called me when you left Dominion. Did you find Lily?”

  “At her apartment, yeah. Just barely,” Stone admitted. “She pulled a gun on me.” And he admired the moxie she had to try that move. “But then her car exploded. If I hadn’t followed my instinct that she’d run or if I’d been a few minutes later . . .”

  The realization that she could have died made his gut churn.

  “Her car exploded? Like a bomb?”

  “Exactly like that.”

  “Merde,” Jack swore. “Thank god you got to her before Canton. That’s what’s important. When we didn’t hear from either of you, I worried. You provide technical assistance, not operative intelligence.”

  “I can hold my own.” He’d learned a lot in prison. “Right now, I’m headed back toward Lafayette but I need a place to hide her, somewhere secluded and difficult to trace. You got a safe house? If I can isolate her, I can figure out what to do next.”

  “I’m already ahead of you. I’ll text you directions to someplace Canton will never find, and if he does, the gators will find him first. In the meantime, I’ll get with Sean to see if we can track down anyone in the Dallas PD working this case who’d be willing to keep us apprised of their investigation, the type of incendiary device, and how sophisticated it was, any suspects or witnesses. Whatever information might help.”

  “When we get to your location, I’ll see what I can dig up with a little online trolling and hacking. Someone somewhere knows something. She’s suffered for too long. This shit is going to stop.”

  “Testifying will be really damn hard on her, but she’ll finally have a future once it’s over and she’ll thank you. But you don’t have very long to persuade her to cooperate.”

  “Thanks for the reminder,” Stone returned flippantly.

  “Sorry, just . . .” Jack sighed. “The two of you will be spending all your time alone at my old fishing cabin. It’s got the basics. I keep it stocked with groceries because Morgan and I go out there whenever we can. The kitchen mostly runs on propane. Extra tanks are in the shed out back. There’s surveillance equipment in the room at the end of the hall. One bedroom . . . but you can make that work in your favor.”

  “How? I can’t fuck her into complying,” Stone protested in a low voice. “Couch?”

  Lily’s words about being both bad at and afraid of sex echoed in his head. Stone didn’t believe she could possibly be terrible between the sheets. As gorgeous as she was, as giving as she tried to be, he just couldn’t picture that. He didn’t know what the deal was between her and Axel and whether the guy had given her a complex about her prowess, but Stone intended to make her feel a whole lot better as soon as she let him.

  Her fear of sex was a totally different problem. So that lone bed in Jack’s cabin might spook her. Until she was able to start trusting him, they couldn’t move forward.

  “No on the couch, not if you want to stand upright tomorrow,” Jack quipped. “Can I give you some advice?”

  “Shoot.” Maybe the guy had something helpful to say. As it was, Stone had no idea how he was going to keep Lily calm, much less convince her to be the prosecution’s main witness against a man who’d once wiped out everyone she loved and now obviously threatened to do away with her.

  “I’ve been in this situation. With Morgan, actually. We were strangers at the time. I managed to keep a psycho from shooting her in broad daylight. Then I took her out to the cabin to hide. If you want to save Lily—and your own ass—get inside her head fast.”

  “She has no idea that I know anything about her past or her true identity.” He glanced Lily’s way. She was still looking out the window, listening to her tunes. Logically, he understood this was her way of keeping space between them while she processed and calmed herself down. But the way she kept him at arm’s length grated on his nerves. “I want her to tell me who she is and who’s after her. I worry that if I tell her I already know—that we’ve all known for the last few months—she’s never going to trust me or agree to tell a jury what she saw.”

  Jack sighed. “I’m not being blunt enough. She’s a submissive looking for someone with a firm hand to belong to. Learn her backward and forward, then figure out exactly what she needs and give it to her. If you can do that, she’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.”

  “I know that’s what you and Logan have been coaching me for during these last three months. I’ll give it every fucking thing I’ve got.”

  “I have faith in you. After all, you put one over on Joaquin and the Edgington brothers with the Dilbert virus. That was pretty clever. Turn that same shrewd mind on her. And just so you know, the cabin comes with a fully equipped playroom. Have fun.”

  Jack hung up, and Stone stared at his phone. On the screen a few seconds later, up popped directions to the place, along with a few instructions on how to disable the cabin’s security.

  Stone tucked away the device and looked across the cab of his truck. He resisted the urge to place a palm on Lily’s thigh, still barely covered in a short pink skirt and white thigh highs, now with holes in both knees. Thankfully, she didn’t look as if she’d scraped herself too badly or been otherwise hurt in the blast. But she was terribly quiet.

  He opted to touch her shoulder and waited until she took out her earbuds and shut off the music blasting from her phone. “You hungry, baby?”

  She shook her head. “How did you know where to find my apartment? I never told you where I live.”

  “I’m a hacker, remember?”

  Her frown told him she didn’t like that answer. “So where in Louisiana are we going?”

  Did she think he would tell her so that she could potentially start planning an exit strategy? “Jack gave me a location where we can hide while we figure out some things. I’ve never been there, but I’ll find it.”

  Lily gnawed on her lip. “You can’t make my problem go away. You’ll just ruin your life.”

  “News flash: It’s already pretty screwed up. I don’t have a lot to lose except you. Tell me about this dirtbag who’s scaring you.”

  She shook her head. “Don’t do this. You can’t keep me in hiding forever, and that’s probably how long it would take to bring this guy down. If the place you’re taking me is safe, great. I’ll use that time to regroup and figure out where to go next. When you get bored, I’ll have a game plan ready.”

  “Like heading to the Keys?” he challenged.

  That got her attention. She reared back. “H-how did you . . . You’re a hacker. Got it.”

  “Baby, when you wouldn’t talk to me, I wanted t
o know all your secrets. I picked apart your Internet searches and scoured your browsing history.”

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