Authors: Tiffany Snow
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Nice to meet you, Billy,” I said with a smile. “I’m Kathleen.” I motioned to his toys. “Who’s the bad guy?”
“Loki,” he answered. “He goes with Thor, but I like Batman better.”
“Batman’s pretty cool,” I agreed. “So, Billy. What are you doing in here?”
“Oh.” I could think of nothing else to say. Which of the women was his mother?
He said that as though it wasn’t a big deal, and my heart hurt a little at his innocence.
The door opened and we both looked up as Lucy stepped inside the room.
“Mom!” Billy declared happily, hopping down off the sofa and running to her. She caught him up in her arms, her eyes warily fixed on me.
“We were just chatting,” I explained.
“Were you a good boy?” Lucy asked Billy. He nodded and she ruffled his hair. “Okay, get your toys. Time to go.”
He came back to the couch and picked up his things, putting them in a small Spider-Man backpack. My eyes went back to Lucy, and realization struck.
This was why she’d told me to not interfere with her and Matt. He must know about Billy, must have a hold on her somehow. What mother wouldn’t do whatever was required of her to keep her child safe?
“That’s my mom,” Billy said, jerking a thumb toward Lucy, “so I gotta go. Bye.”
I forced a smile. “Bye, Billy.”
“Luce, are you ready?”
My eyes widened in surprise to see Chance. Lucy gasped, shaking her head at him, her eyes cutting toward me. Chance glanced over, his lips thinning into a line when he saw me.
“I’ll take care of it,” he told Lucy in an undertone. “Just go. I’ll be right behind you.”
Grabbing Billy’s hand, Lucy left without saying a word to me, leaving Chance and me alone.
“‘Luce’?” I asked after a moment. “You know her?”
Chance rubbed a tired hand across his face. “You could say that,” he muttered.
A thought occurred to me and I blurted, “You’re not… that’s not… Billy’s not your son, is he?”
“No, nothing like that,” Chance denied. “But you can’t say anything to anyone. He’ll kill her.”
“Matt. I’m trying to help her, but if he gets wind of it, he won’t think twice.” He glanced out the door. “I’ve gotta go. Keep your head down and your mouth shut, okay?”
I nodded, our eyes meeting in a moment of mutual understanding, before he left, following Lucy and Billy out the door.
I heaved a sigh. My foolish innocence seemed like a weight on my shoulders. People were in horrible situations all around me, and I was clueless as to anything I might be able to do to help. I felt powerless in a way I hadn’t ever felt before. Not to mention that my problems seemed pitiful in comparison to Lucy’s.
I managed to avoid Mike and Matt for the rest of the evening, helping Jack clean up after closing as quickly as I could. Turning to Jack, I said, “I’m heading home.”
He ignored me, which I took to mean he didn’t care, so I grabbed my purse and coat and headed out the door.
I emerged from the stifling, smoky club into the crisp, clean air of the outdoors. It had been hot inside and I was sweating. Sometime during the evening, it had begun to snow, fat flakes falling from the dark sky. The ground was warm, though, and the snow was only sticking to the grass and not the pavement.
I shivered, but the cold felt good. And it was blessedly quiet. Walking around the corner of the building toward the employee parking, I paused and leaned back against the wall. Closing my eyes, I heaved a sigh. Some Valentine’s Day.
Surrounded by men, none of whom I wanted. This had to be the worst Valentine’s Day ever.
“How many times have I told you to clear the shadows before assuming you’re alone?”
I gasped, my eyes flying open, though I knew that voice.
Kade stepped into the dim circle of light cast by the streetlamp. The icy blue of his eyes sucked me in, and I stood unmoving while he came closer. I was thrown back in time to when I’d first met him, the aura of danger surrounding him nearly palpable. He moved through the inky darkness as though he were a part of it, never taking his eyes off mine.
My senses seemed heightened by his presence. I was suddenly acutely conscious of the hushed quiet that only snow can bring, the tiny bits of sharp cold as the snowflakes fell on my skin and melted away.
Then I remembered how he’d fired me.
“What do you want?” I asked stiffly.
He didn’t reply immediately, not until he was only an arm’s length away. “I was in the neighborhood.”
I snorted. “Right.” Something occurred to me and I tossed him my car keys, which he caught reflexively. “I’m guessing you came for the car. No job, no wheels, right?” I’d temporarily forgotten I was driving a car owned by the firm.
Kade’s jaw grew tight. “Like I give a shit about the damn car.”
“Then why are you here?” I shot back.
“I could ask the same,” another voice said.
Jerking around, my eyes widened to see Blane approaching. Dressed similarly to Kade, in jeans and a black leather jacket, he didn’t stop until he was quite close, the two of them flanking me. Blane’s body towered over mine, his
stance protective. Though the only threat I could see was… Kade. Blane glanced at me, but his gray eyes gave nothing away.
“Why the midnight visit?” he asked Kade.
Kade’s lips twisted. “I fired her, but as usual, she decided to play the brainless twit and come in tonight. I was just ensuring she made it home, brother.”
My temper flared even as his words hurt. I opened my mouth to protest, but Blane spoke first.
“Well, I’m here now, so you can go.”
Blane’s body was stiff, his face unyielding as he studied Kade. Kade’s eyes narrowed at the challenge in Blane’s voice. I glanced anxiously between them, hoping there wouldn’t be a repeat of last night’s confrontation.
“A politician like yourself shouldn’t be around a place like this,” Kade remarked easily. “One grainy photo on the news and you can kiss your career good-bye.”
I stiffened in alarm, realizing this was absolutely true. It hadn’t even occurred to me. “We’re closed, Blane,” I said quickly, laying a hand on his arm. “I was just going home. Let’s go.”
Anything he might have said was interrupted by a woman’s shrill scream, shattering the quiet.
I didn’t get the chance to say anything further. Blane’s hand covered my mouth as he jerked me into his arms, pressing my back against his chest. Then he was moving us, lifting me off my feet and melting into the shadows. Kade followed, gun in his hand, covering Blane’s blind spot.
It happened so fast. Before my heart could beat more than a half dozen times, the three of us were concealed in the darkness behind the building. I was sandwiched snugly between Blane and Kade, and Blane finally took his hand off my mouth to pull his gun from its holster. His other arm stayed firmly locked around my waist, as though I were planning to go somewhere, which I so wasn’t.
My heart was beating a rapid staccato against my rib cage, adrenaline heightening my senses and sharpening my fear. I clutched the back of Kade’s jacket with one hand, the other tightly gripping Blane’s encircling arm.
Kade carefully peered around the building.
“Looks like they’re taking some girls out of the club,” he said softly to Blane. “They’re loading them into a white van.”
“It must be the girls that were in the Champagne Room tonight,” I said, just as quietly.
Kade looked at me while Blane was silent.
“There were men having sex with them,” I explained, “including Matt Summers. The girls, they were drugged or something. Their eyes… it’s like they didn’t know or didn’t care what was happening.” I shuddered, the vacant expression in the one girl’s eyes still burning in my mind. “We have to help them.”
“Not going to happen,” Kade said flatly. “Not with you here.”
“We can’t just let them take them,” I protested. I looked up at Blane. “Please,” I implored. “Do something. God knows where they’ll end up if we don’t help them.”
“Kade’s right, Kat,” Blane said. “They’re all armed. Not only you, but the other women could get hurt.”
“Then you just have to not use guns,” I argued, a plan forming in my head. “I have an idea.” When I quickly laid it out, both Blane and Kade looked furious.
“Don’t give me those looks,” I snapped. “It could work and you know it.”
I wriggled to get out of Blane’s grip, pushing at his arm. “Let me go,” I demanded.
He reluctantly dropped his arm and I quickly shed my coat. The tension in Blane’s body increased tenfold when he got an eyeful of my outfit, but I refused to look at him. Kade just snorted.
“See you in a minute, guys.”
They looked dark and deadly in the shadows, the two of them, weapons ready in their hands. Before I could turn
away, Blane pulled me close for a quick press of his lips against mine.
“Be careful,” he said.
I nodded, my eyes darting uncomfortably to Kade, whose face was like stone.
Taking a deep breath and readjusting my assets inside my corset, I walked around the corner of the building.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” I called out, wobbling on my heels as though I were drunk.
To my relief, they were still handing women inside the van, though I noticed that each woman was holding her hands in such a way that they must be bound.
Two of the men jerked around toward me, guns at the ready, and I tried not to panic, praying their fingers weren’t snappy on the triggers. When they saw an apparently drunken woman tottering toward them, they both relaxed.
“I’m lookin’ for my boyfriend,” I called out, coming closer. “Y’all seen him?”
Two of the men quickly conversed, one gesturing toward me.
I faked a trip, falling down on the concrete and giggling like a mad hyena.
“Go get her,” one of the men ordered, and I braced myself, sitting back on my heels.
“Give me a hand, would ya?” I asked as two men approached me.
Well, I hadn’t counted on two of them coming for me, but I couldn’t back out now.
They slung their guns behind their backs, the straps stretching across their chests. One on each side of me, both reached for my arms to pull me to my feet.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I moaned. They both hesitated, and I took my chance.
My fist shot out to land hard in one man’s crotch. He immediately doubled over, grunting in pain. The other guy was still frozen in surprise when I reached up, grabbed the gun strap around his chest, and yanked downward with all my strength. His face met the back of the other guy’s head with a crack, and blood spurted from his nose.
I heard commotion by the van and chanced a quick glance at Blane and Kade. They had rounded the building to take the remaining men by surprise.
The guy whose family jewels I’d nailed had fallen to the ground, his hands cupping his crotch, but the other guy had recovered from his head slam. He yanked his gun around and aimed it in the direction of Blane and Kade.
Panic hit and I launched myself to my feet and tackled him, gun and all. We hit the concrete with a thud.
Spitting out rapid-fire Spanish, the man threw me off. When I came back at him, he swung his rifle, the butt catching me in the temple with brutal force.
I collapsed to the ground and he shoved me out of the way with his booted foot. I was facedown against the cold, wet concrete. I couldn’t move, the pain was excruciating, and I fought to stay conscious, a groan escaping me.
Gunshots rang out, and terror gripped me. Who had fired the shots? Had Blane or Kade been hit? Then I couldn’t fight it anymore, and darkness overtook me.
“Is she all right?”
“Does she look all right to you?”
“Why the hell would you let her do something like that—”
“You obviously don’t know her very well if you think there was a way to stop her.”
“I know her better than you ever will, I can guaran-damn-tee you that.”
“I wouldn’t lay odds on that, boy scout.”
“Will you two shut the fuck up?”
I groaned, the pain in my head feeling as though it had taken over my whole body. Prying my eyes open, I saw three anxious faces peering down at me. Blane. Kade. Chance.
I groaned again and shut my eyes, wishing I were still unconscious.
Blane was crouched next to me. “Kat, how do you feel?” he asked gently.
Reluctantly opening my eyes, I focused on Blane. “Like I got hit in the head,” I rasped. I lifted a hand toward my head, but Blane caught my wrist.
“Don’t touch it. You’re bleeding.”
“What happened?” I asked. “I heard gunshots…”
“Boy scout here shot the guy who hit you,” Kade answered, nodding toward Chance. “Turns out he has a badge. But you already knew that, didn’t you, princess?” His glare held accusation and I nervously looked away.
“You told them?” I asked Chance.
“Had to,” Chance replied grimly. “They were going to shoot first, ask questions later. Especially him.” He glared malevolently at Kade.
“I’m still considering it,” Kade drawled.
“Stop fighting,” I groused, easing upright. Blane’s arm curved supportively behind my back. I stood, the blood rushing from my head making me weave slightly.