Authors: Tiffany Snow
“Always have an escape plan, princess,” Kade said when I landed. “No time to climb down.” He grabbed me around the waist and yanked me to him. “Hold on.”
I obediently wrapped my arms around his neck.
He stepped out onto the ladder, grasped the edge, and pulled. We began sliding downward at a dizzying speed, the rusted metal groaning and clanking as the ladder unraveled after years of nonuse.
We came to a bone-jarring halt ten feet from the ground.
“Slide down,” Kade ordered. “That’ll get you closer.”
“What about you?”
“I’m tougher than you are.”
Okay, no arguing with that.
I released my death grip on his neck and began a clumsy slide down his body. His shirt was slippery and I lost my grip, yelping in dismay as it tore. I caught hold of his waist and looked up. Kade was hanging by both hands now, the muscles in his arms straining under our combined weight.
“You’re heavier than you look,” he ground out.
He was so going to pay for that remark.
I shimmied the rest of the way down, holding on to his ankle before I let myself drop the remaining few feet to the ground. Barely had I regained my balance than Kade was next to me. We ran. Moments later, Kade was flooring the SUV and we were racing away, leaving destruction in our wake.
After the complete chaos and panic of the last few minutes, the silence inside the car seemed bizarre. I looked over at Kade, who caught my eye.
“That was fun,” he said.
“That’s not the word I’d use to describe it,” I said when I finally caught my breath. “What happened?”
His grin faded and he looked back at the road. “It was a trap. A setup. Whoever went looking for information on Sheffield was going to get roasted alive. Everything was wiped clean.”
“Not completely,” I said, digging in my pocket. I unearthed the crumpled Post-it, looked it over, and handed it to Kade. “Saw that under the couch.”
“Rob,” Kade read. “And a phone number. Looks like you’re more than just eye candy, princess. Good catch.”
I closed my eyes, leaning my head back against the seat. Suddenly, I was exhausted.
We came to a stop a short while later and I opened my eyes. We were in a parking lot. I looked around. It was a cheap motel in the middle of downtown Denver.
“Don’t you know any nicer places?” I asked.
“You’re too good for a place like this?”
I shot him a look. “Absolutely.”
Kade’s lips twisted as he turned off the engine and pocketed the keys. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
I waited while he rented a room, coming back with a key and grabbing our bags. Following him, I was relieved to see that he’d gotten a room with two beds, though I would have preferred separate rooms altogether.
“Why are we sticking around?” I asked, sitting down on one of the beds.
“I have a contact nearby,” Kade said, unbuttoning and shedding his torn shirt. “He may know more about what happened today.”
My eyes widened as his hands moved to his belt. “What are you doing?”
“Thought I’d grab a shower,” Kade said with a smirk. Care to join me?”
I jerked my gaze away, ignoring him. I heard him chuckle softly before disappearing into the bathroom.
I flopped back on the bed with a sigh, exhausted. My eyes slipped shut.
It was darker in the room when I woke, and quiet. The sun must be setting, I thought drowsily. At some point, Kade
must have covered me with a blanket, the cozy warmth of my cocoon making it difficult to fully awaken.
My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and I realized Kade was sitting in a chair by the window. He had dressed but neglected to button his shirt. He was drinking from one of the motel’s plastic cups, a bottle filled with an amber liquid at his elbow.
I watched in silence as he lifted the cup to his lips. Condensation had formed on the plastic and a drop fell to land on his bare skin. He leaned back in the chair with a sigh.
My gaze too avidly followed the droplet as it lazily trailed down his chest and disappeared under the denim waistband of his jeans.
Kade’s still-damp hair curled gently over the collar of his shirt. He lifted the cup again. I watched the movement of his throat as he swallowed.
When I looked up, I found his blue eyes staring intently at me. The pull between us was nearly tangible now in the quiet of the motel room.
Kade set his drink down, got up, and crossed to the bed. Silently, he stretched out facing me, so close I could feel the faint brush of his breath against my cheek and smell the slight tang of soap from his shower.
Reaching out, Kade combed his fingers gently through my hair, pushing it over my shoulder. His touch was soft against my jaw. Our eyes met and held.
I grasped his hand in mine, pulling it away from my face and resting it between us.
“Don’t,” I whispered.
“Why not?” His thumb caressed the back of my hand, and my skin seemed to tingle from his touch.
“You, me… us… isn’t going to happen.”
His blue eyes seemed to see more than I wanted him to, but I couldn’t look away.
“You know that, right?” I continued.
“I know that you like me, you care about me, you’re attracted to me.”
“But I love Blane.” The words fell out of my mouth without any forethought. Yet I knew they were true. Regardless of the attraction I felt or the strength of the temptation of Kade, I loved Blane.
Kade’s eyes had turned cold. “Will you love him when he leaves you to head to Iraq?”
“Do you think he’ll go?” I couldn’t keep the anguish from my voice.
The hardness of Kade’s face softened, and I thought I detected a hint of pity when he said, “Probably.”
stood under the hot spray of the shower, Kade’s words echoing inside my head. I couldn’t pretend that the idea of Blane going back into the Navy didn’t terrify me. Not only for his safety, but for what that would mean for anything the future might hold for us.
I remembered Adriana Waters—the ex-wife of Navy SEAL Kyle Waters. She had been devastated when he’d re-enlisted, despite knowing she was pregnant. She’d miscarried shortly into his deployment and divorced him a few months after that.
“Be sure to fall in love with someone who loves you more than you love them,” she had told me. I could still recall the bitterness in her voice and the disillusionment in her eyes.
I loved Blane, but did he love me? And if so, would he love me enough not to reenlist? And did I love him enough to stick around waiting for the very real possibility that he’d die in combat?
Should I get out now, before it was too late? Or was it already too late?
I couldn’t answer any of these questions.
When I came out of the bathroom dressed in fresh clothes, Kade was just getting off his cell phone.
“My contact just called.” He glanced over at me. “I need to go meet with him.”
“Okay.” I said, pulling my hair back into a ponytail. “Let me grab my purse.”
Kade gave a snort. “You can’t go.”
Kade sauntered closer. “Because where I’m going”—he twisted my ponytail around his finger and gave a gentle tug—“isn’t the kind of place for a girl like you, princess.”
“But who’ll have your back?” I asked.
“I’ve been doing this alone for a long time,” he smirked. “I think I can go one night without backup.”
I pulled my ponytail out of his grasp and huffed in exasperation as he walked out the door. How was I supposed to do my job if he left me behind?
Making an instant decision, I shoved my feet into my running shoes. Grabbing my purse and the extra room key, I headed out the door—just in time to watch Kade cross the street a block up.
Trying to remember everything he’d taught me about surveillance, I followed him at a distance, close enough to keep him in sight but not draw his attention. There were just enough people out downtown to camouflage my pursuit.
A crowd filled the sidewalk up ahead and Kade disappeared into it. I stepped up my pace.
As I pushed my way into the mix of people, I realized I’d lost him. Looking up, I saw stairs leading into a nightclub. The sign overhead proclaimed it to be Bar Sinister.
Well, that didn’t sound ominous or anything.
I maneuvered my way to the front of the line, where a huge guy was manning the door. Even with the temperature around forty-five degrees, he wore a short-sleeved T-shirt stretched tightly across his massive arms and shoulders. Tattoos covered his arms and I could see more on his neck that disappeared under his collar. He wore silver earrings in each ear, and his head was shaved.
When I got to the door, he stepped in front of me. Looking me up and down, he said, “I don’t think so.”
Surprised, I glanced up, then up some more. He towered above me.
I swallowed heavily. “My friend is in there,” I said, digging inside my purse. “How much for the cover?”
“It’s not the cover, sweetheart. This ain’t no place for a sorority chick like you.” He gave me another derisive once-over and snorted.
I looked down at my clothes, then at the people around me.
Hmm. Okay, maybe he had a point.
While my jeans, cami, and pullover sweater might seem fine to me, compared to the leather, lace, and stilettos around me, I looked like the proverbial fish out of water. Even if I did get in, I’d stand out. Bad idea.
I backed away and pushed to the edge of the crowd, ignoring a few leers and aspersions on my sexual predilections cast my way.
I chewed my lip, trying to think over my options. Kade was in there without backup, and while I wasn’t under any delusions about how much actual help I’d be should the need arise, some was better than none, at least to my way of thinking. Kade obviously held a differing opinion.
Movement caught my eye and I looked down the narrow alley next to the building. Two women had emerged from a side door and were stumbling away, teetering precariously on their high heels. Making a quick decision, I jogged down the alley toward them.
They seemed to find their own unsteadiness amusing, as they were laughing and clutching each other to stay on their feet. I could smell alcohol, cigarette smoke, and stale perfume. One was a tall blonde. The other was about my height with hair a shade of red I was sure was not found in nature. Scrutinizing her for a moment, I realized she would do nicely.
“Excuse me,” I said.
Neither one responded, still giggling as they stumbled away.
“Excuse me,” I repeated more loudly.
That finally got the redhead’s attention and she turned toward me. I could tell immediately from her eyes that she was stoned or drunk, maybe both.
“What do you want?” she slurred.
“Want to make twenty bucks?” I asked.
She looked me up and down. “Sure, honey, but if you want a threesome, it’ll cost you fifty.”
My face grew hot, but I tried to ignore my embarrassment at her assumption. “That’s not quite what I meant.”
I explained what I needed. She grinned at me.
“Sure thing, honey.”
A few minutes later, I stepped inside the dimly lit bar. The bouncer had let me in without batting an eye. I don’t think he’d even recognized me.
It had taken fifty bucks to swap my clothes for the redhead’s. I was now wearing something that would have made my mother faint on the spot.
A black leather miniskirt was glued to my skin, starting beneath my belly button and ending so it just covered my ass. If I even thought about bending over, I’d be displaying my entire… well, everything. Up top I had on a leopard-print tube top, my breasts straining against the thin satin fabric. I’d have to make sure I didn’t raise my arms at the same time or the girls would be popping out like twin jack-in-the-boxes.
A spiked leather band around my neck, leopard-print stilettos (which were killing my feet already), and black lipstick completed my outfit. I’d taken my hair down and tousled it as wildly as I could without the benefit of hairspray.
The inside of the bar was packed with people. Surprisingly, the temperature was cool and goose bumps erupted on my bare arms. A DJ was playing heavy metal; the loud grinding of the guitar and shrill voice of the singer assaulted my ears. The bass was turned up enough for me to feel the pulse in my body. The predominant lighting was red mixed with black light, the better to showcase the graffiti on the walls, glowing eerily in the semidarkness.
When my eyes adjusted, I started moving through the maze of bodies, scanning the crowd for Kade.
“Tell me that collar comes with a leash and I’ll say I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
I turned to see a guy, tall and thin, leering at me. He had numerous piercings in his face and giant plugs through his earlobes that looked really painful.
I forced a smile. “Sorry. I’m not on the market to be someone’s pet.” I slipped into the crowd before he could say anything else and, purely by chance, saw Kade.
He was at a corner table, with another man sitting on a stool across from him. Each had a glass on the table, though neither was drinking. Taking a deep breath, I made my way toward them. I didn’t know if the other guy was friend or foe, so decided it would be best not to tip my hand.