Dirty wicked, p.9
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       Dirty Wicked, p.9

         Part #11.5 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
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  Sasha frowned. “How was I supposed to know that?”

  “He sent you the flowers with the card and the key. And he told you to find me, right?”

  “Yes,” she admitted as if the puzzle pieces suddenly fell into place. “You’re right. He planned everything.”

  Nick nodded. “He meant for you to find his evidence with me.”

  In fact, the more Nick looked at the situation, he began to wonder if Mike had wanted him to take care of Sasha, not just now but always.

  Nick pocketed her chain and palmed the key. His heart thudded as he sent her one last glance, then scrutinized the area. The coast was clear. He had the wind and the dropping temperature to thank. Who knew how long this boon would last?

  He didn’t waste another second before he bent to the hip-high box and shoved the key in the hole. It fit—but it didn’t turn. The lock, like the door itself, had weathered with the elements. It was slightly rusted and stubborn, but with some brute force, it gave way. With a scrape and a squeak, it protested as it unlocked and the door slid ajar. Nick wrenched it the rest of the way. Beside him, Sasha gasped.

  “What are we supposed to find?” she glanced up and down the electrical panel, scanning well-labeled breakers and a few plastic-coated wires. There wasn’t much else to see.

  “I don’t know.” He dragged out his phone and launched the flashlight app to make sure he wasn’t missing anything hidden in the shadowed recesses of the box. With eager fingers, he tapped his way around the inside of the lid, the sides, the crannies underneath the guts of the panel. Nothing. Then he felt his way along the top.

  His fingertips brushed over a hard, plastic ridge.

  “I think I got something.”


  Nick groped to find the best grip around the edges. A flash drive. He yanked it. The sounds of Velcro drifted up with the wind.

  Just like that, he held Mike’s evidence in his hand. Triumph and hope for Sasha’s future roared through Nick. For the first time since receiving Mike’s phone call asking him to look into Clifford because something seemed crooked, he had hope this situation might turn out right.

  He shoved the drive and phone in his pocket, locked the panel door, and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go.”

  Sasha clutched him tight as she scanned the park with wary eyes, as if she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, either.

  When they reached the car, he handed her back the chain and key. He didn’t know how sentimental they might be for her. But damn it, he hated the thought that Sasha might be sitting right beside him and pining for Mike when some part of him wanted her to be his so damn badly he could barely stand it.

  She slipped them back around her neck. “Now what?”

  He pulled out of his parking spot and back onto the road. “We have to find some way to read what’s on this drive. Make sure it’s the evidence Mike meant to leave us.” That time, weather, and human tampering hadn’t erased it.

  “Public libraries usually have computers anyone can use.”

  “We can’t risk someone else getting a glimpse of whatever we’ve found, any virus zapping it, or any system administrator erasing it.”

  “You’re right. Clifford is sneaky. He has eyes and ears everywhere.”

  Which was why Nick felt like, now that he had the flash drive, he was racing against the clock. It was only a matter of time before Clifford came after them. He didn’t know how, when, or where; he just knew it was inevitable. He had to get the data to someone with enough power to take the DA down and get Sasha to safety.

  Nick yanked his phone out of his pocket as he gunned the accelerator through a yellow light.

  Xander picked up quickly. “You find it?”

  Nick explained the situation. “I need a computer.”

  “You just left the park? Go west on Veterans Memorial. A few blocks beyond Division, you’ll run into an electronics store on your left.” He rattled off the address of the big chain’s location. “I’ll have something ready for you by the time you get there. You’ll just have to haul inside and pick it up.”

  “Thanks.” He frowned. “Are you tracking this SUV?”

  “Yep.” Xander sounded proud of himself. “GPS is my friend.”

  “You son of a bitch.”

  “Well, I’m a son of a bitch who’s worried about you. Call me once you know what’s on the flash drive. And tell Sasha that Harper is doing really well today. Her fever has broken.”

  “Will do.” Nick hung up and focused on the road, looking beside and behind him to ensure no one followed them as he relayed the message about the girl.

  Sasha breathed a sigh of relief. “Xander seems like a good friend.”

  “He and Javier are fantastic…now. Without London, I’m not sure either of them were going to make it much longer. Javier was quickly drinking himself to death after his first wife’s murder, and Xander seemed well on his way to getting some flesh-eating STD.”

  “How did they wind up with the same woman?”

  “Well, Xander and his brother weren’t speaking at the time. London was working as Javier’s secretary—and everyone knew he wanted her. So of course Xander was trying to seduce her. If the situation hadn’t been so fucked up, it would have been funny.”

  “What I mean is that she’s not legally married to them both, so—”

  “No, she’s legally married to Xander. Dulce is biologically Javier’s daughter.” He shrugged. “I don’t know how they make it all work, but those three love each other. Whatever they share…it’s what they all need. I’ve never seen either brother happier.”

  “If I hadn’t seen them for myself, I would have doubted a successful relationship like that was possible. I certainly would have been wary about London’s moral character.” Sasha winced. “I grew up in a pretty religious household, and my dad would label their marriage blasphemy. But they really opened my eyes, and I’m so grateful for all they’ve done.”

  “Me, too.” Nick waded his way through more lunchtime traffic until they reached the electronics store. He parked and yanked the keys from the ignition. “Let’s go.”

  Three minutes later, they were walking out with a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro that would have no problem reading—and storing—whatever was on Mike’s portable drive.

  “Now what?”

  Nick’s thoughts raced. They’d checked out of the motel. But if this contained what he thought it did, they couldn’t leave New Orleans without getting this fucking evidence to the FBI or the mayor—someone who could prosecute this wretched son of a bitch.

  “You drive.” He tossed her the keys and made his way around the vehicle. “This computer may have just enough battery life to read whatever Mike left us.”

  He tore the machine out of the box and booted it up as she left the parking lot. He skipped as much of the setup process as the operating system would allow, then shoved the flash drive into the port. One item popped up in the Finder window. When he clicked on it, the screen came to life.

  Chapter Five

  Sasha glanced from the road to the screen as it froze and a pop-up message about the operating system being out of date flashed, preventing Nick from playing the evidence.

  “Fuck. Pull over,” Nick commanded. “I’m not a typist and this is too hard to do in a moving car.”

  Sasha was cruising down the middle of three easterly lanes. “Anywhere in particular?”

  “There.” He pointed to the entrance of a parking lot to her right, leading to a Chipotle.

  She changed lanes and did what he’d asked. The lot was starting to fill up, and she knew better than to park in the middle of the crowd, so she coasted around back, between two empty cars that probably belonged to employees, and put the SUV in park.

  As she did, he turned on his hot spot and hooked it up to the computer. When the device prompted him to download more updates, he cursed and pressed the button to begin.

  Over his cell signal, the download moved slowly.

  “I wish we could play the video already,” she said desperately.

  “Yeah.” He spoke the word as if he understood exactly how she felt, as if he’d waited and hoped like hell vengeance was coming.

  Her impatience spiked. In moments, the mystery might be solved. The endless days and nights of misery might be over. Sadness that she’d lost Mike mixed with triumph that she and Nick could actually solve his murder. Mike would be so proud of her.

  But Nick might be her biggest surprise. Despite being Mike’s friend, she hadn’t known him well. Nick had moved to Lafayette before she and Mike had begun dating. He’d been burying his mother the weekend she and Mike married, so she hadn’t met him then, either. Their introduction after Harper’s birth had been brief and oddly tense. So when Nick had acted like a predatory jerk in the last thirty-six hours, Sasha had remembered Mike’s warnings and believed the worst.

  Now that Nick had explained why he’d distanced himself and she had spent time in the circle of his protection and caring, she gauged him not by his words but through his actions. He could have slammed the door in her face that midnight she’d come, begging for help. He could have told her that he’d just gotten out of prison and didn’t want any more problems with Walter Clifford. But he hadn’t. He’d risked life, limb, and freedom to give her and Harper a tomorrow.

  Equally telling, Nick was denying himself something he wanted badly—her. Apparently, he’d been doing it since the moment he set eyes on her. He could have taken advantage of her twenty times by now. After all, she’d agreed to be his mistress for a month, give him whatever kind of sexual payment he demanded. But, despite being without sex for over a year, he’d refused her body both times she’d offered it. Last night he’d bestowed dazzling pleasure on her without asking for anything in return. Instead, he had done his utmost to respect Mike’s friendship and memory. Even now, he tried to protect her, especially from himself. His self-sacrifice struck her as both noble and sexy. Sasha didn’t know everything he thought or felt, but deep down she knew he was a good man. No denying he aroused her body in ways she’d scarcely imagined.

  Yes, he could be gruff and foul-mouthed and blunt. But he was also smart and protective—and so much more than the dangerous criminal she’d believed him to be days ago.

  Circumstance. Situations. Inevitability. Fate. Whatever she called it, everything had led her to this moment with Nick. The day she’d buried Mike, she had felt as if she buried her heart with him. But here it was, fluttering in her chest with hope, respect, and desire—all for the man sitting beside her.

  Oh, goodness. She was falling in love.

  When had that happened?

  Finally, another pop-up announced the completion of the operating system’s update. He flipped back over to the video player and clicked the button. An image of Walter Clifford’s office filled the screen. A little grainy, and the audio quality wasn’t great. But Mike stood behind the desk, looking up nervously at the camera.

  Sasha gasped. It was hard to look at her late husband—his familiar movements and mannerisms. That face she’d know anywhere. The cowlick at the front of his pale hair. The remnants of the sunburn he’d gotten after washing their cars without putting on sunscreen the previous weekend.

  “I’ll be goddamned. Mike…buddy.” Nick sounded choked up.

  Sasha stifled tears and reached for his hand. “It’s him. Oh, my gracious. What is he doing?”

  “Inexpertly setting up a hidden camera in his boss’s office. Damn it, Mike. Why didn’t you ask me to wire that place for you?”

  “Maybe everything happened too fast?”

  “Probably. And because the one time I visited your house, he noticed I couldn’t stop staring at you.” Nick looked sheepish. “I’m so damn sorry I wasn’t there.”

  “Look at the date stamp.” She caught sight of it in the bottom right corner, a number that faded in, flashed a few times, then dwindled away. “Wasn’t that the day after you got arrested?”

  Nick squinted at the numbers, then nodded. “It fucking is. He must have known that installing surveillance in Clifford’s office was dangerous. I got out two days later.” After the police had magically forgotten to allow him a phone call, and the Santiagos had come looking for him. Money talked, and theirs had helped him make bail quickly. “I would have handled it.”

  By then, Mike’s fate had likely been sealed.

  Sasha wasn’t even sure what to feel. Angry? Regretful? In the end, she settled for somewhere between sad and resigned since she couldn’t change the past. She could only move on from here. She would always miss her sweet, salt-of-the-earth husband.

  But she was beginning to believe Nick Navarro might be her future.

  Suddenly, Mike jolted and shoved something into a drawer, then hastily shut it before darting around the desk and heading toward the camera—and the office door. His footsteps sounded loud. As he crept closer to the camera, it picked up a sheen of sweat on his face and the nervous shift in his eyes.

  “Damn it,” Nick murmured. “But this is my thing. He sucked at clandestine.”

  She couldn’t disagree. Had the honesty she’d treasured in Mike been one of the qualities that led to his demise?

  “Porter. What are you doing here?” said a faint voice belonging to someone out of the camera’s view. But Sasha knew exactly who it belonged to. She’d heard Walter Clifford speak too often not to recognize his gruff tones.

  “Looking for you. I wanted to give you an update on the Ector case.”

  “Later.” Clifford sounded dismissive. “I just came back from lunch, and I’m late for a conference call. See me at four.”

  “Of course.” Mike all but bowed and scraped as he headed for the door.

  Watching him leave the screen cramped Sasha’s stomach with a physical pain. He disappeared from the shot quickly, and it felt like losing him all over again. There would be no more of Mike’s movements or smiles or complaints on a Sunday morning that the most important political shows shouldn’t be airing when people should be in church. She wouldn’t see him rock his daughter, touch his smooth cheek, or hear him sing in the shower ever again.

  He was simply gone.

  “Shit,” Nick muttered beside her.

  Sasha refocused on the screen and watched Clifford shuffle into view. Balding, portly, pushing sixty, he looked far more like someone’s grouchy grandfather than a corrupt politician and criminal mastermind. The man scowled and searched the room, seemingly suspicious, before he shook his head, plopped down behind his desk, and yanked the receiver of his phone to his ear.

  Seconds later, he began hissing at whomever was on the other line. “Has Mike Porter been sneaking around your office?” After a pause, Clifford gripped the phone tighter. “Well, today is the third time I’ve found him snooping around mine. I don’t like it. I’m pretty sure he overheard us fixing the evidence in that criminal dumping case against that fucking oil driller. The moral stick up that church boy’s ass has become an antenna, and I haven’t been able to redirect him.” Again, another hesitation while the other party—probably a sheriff or police chief—spoke. “Fuck the money. We stand to lose our reputations and careers if Porter has evidence and he goes public.” Clifford swore. “Let me find out what he knows. If he’s onto us, I’ll make sure he can’t talk anymore.”

  Beside her, Nick stiffened. And he looked at the screen like he hated Walter Clifford almost more than he could contain, like he had to swallow it down to keep it from spewing out, like he had to breathe through it or he might explode. Sasha understood that. The same furious incredulity spread through her. How dare that man leave a woman without her husband, a child without her father, a friend without his buddy? But he’d talked about murder so casually, so thoughtlessly—as if he’d done it before.

  After another hesitation during which the cop must have mentioned another problem, the DA scowled. “Yeah? Keep that fucking P.I. Navarro in jail until we can figure out what he knows about my affairs. And for fuck’s
sake, don’t tell the press who’s accused him of rape. They’ll start connecting the dots, and the whole thing will turn into a PR nightmare. My niece will crumble under the pressure. Fiona is a pretty girl…but not a bright one. We’ll get this fucker’s case rammed through fast. Find out who Navarro’s attorney is and put the screws to him. Make sure Judge Marburn presides when it gets to trial. He owes me. Don’t fuck this up.”

  Sasha watched Nick, glanced at the screen for a moment, then back to the seething, dangerous man beside her again. Not only had Mike captured the evidence that might put away his murderer, he had also proven that Nick really had been framed.

  His jaw clenched. He didn’t say anything for a moment, like he was too furious to speak without giving into his violent urge to kill Walter Clifford.

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