Wicked ties, p.32
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       Wicked Ties, p.32

         Part #1 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
 
Page 32

 

  Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the hall and lingered in the shadows. And listened.

  “What the hell do you want?” she heard Jack snap.

  A rumbling laugh over the speakerphone in the cottage’s front room echoed down the hall.

  “I’ll take three guesses as to why you’re so crabby. And I don’t need the last two. ”

  Deke. She recognized his teasing voice, could picture the crinkles of laughter around those dancing denim-blue eyes…so seemingly at odds with that tall, hard body.

  “Did you call just to annoy me?”

  “Hell, no. You know I never go for anything easy. Where’s the challenge in that?”

  “So you called because…?”

  “I need to talk to Morgan. ”

  Jack hesitated, his hands curling into fists. “Why?”

  In that one syllable, he sounded somewhere between suspicious and downright pissed.

  “Did that hard cock of yours make you forget all about the stalker trailing her sweet ass?”

  “No, you SOB, I haven’t forgotten. And you get your mind off her ass. ”

  “It’s not as if I’ve perfected the ability to reach my cock through the phone line and fuck her, Jack. It’s a conversation. Lighten up. ”

  Morgan frowned. Deke acted as if he thought Jack was jealous. The thought would have made her burst out laughing if she hadn’t observed Jack’s odd behavior around Deke before and he hadn’t looked so…tense.

  With a deep sigh, Jack uncurled his fists. “I’ll get her. ”

  “I’m here. ” Morgan took those few steps out of the shadow, into the light, then down the hall toward Jack.

  He whirled to face her, his eyes grasping onto her like a vise. Morgan felt her nipples, bare from the cutouts in the bra, beat against the soft, thin jersey knit of his robe. Based on the way his eyes widened and his nostrils flared, she guessed he noticed.

  “Morgan,” Deke greeted over the speakerphone. “Hi, doll. ”

  “Hi, Deke. Do you have news?”

  “Yeah. We weren’t able to lift any prints off the photos. I’m sorry. But we did learn some interesting information about them, so I have a few questions. ”

  Disappointment trembled within her. When would this nightmare be over? And how would it ever end if Deke couldn’t track this lunatic down? She wanted to feel normal again, return home and not worry that someone had breached her personal space and violated her bed with semen. She wanted her old life back. Clearly, she wasn’t going to get it anytime soon.

  To her surprise, Jack eased beside her and curled her suddenly cold hand into this larger, warmer one. Warm. Solid. Secure. He enveloped her in that simple embrace, and instantly Morgan felt stronger.

  Until she realized that getting her old life back meant losing Jack. The disappointment that crashed in on her stunned her. She clung tighter to him. Why didn’t the thought of getting away from him make her want to celebrate? She ought to be contemplating how many margaritas she could get out of her blender. Getting back to her old life would mean no more stalker, no more questioning herself. Instead, she latched onto Jack’s hand and refused to let go.

  “What do you want to know?” Morgan asked Deke.

  “Anyone you know really into photography, like it’s a bigtime hobby?”

  “Reggie, my production assistant. He mostly dabbles but he’s very good. He’s had a few shows in the past. ” Morgan frowned. “You don’t think Reggie would…?”

  He hesitated. “After my FBI buddies analyzed these pictures, we discovered they were taken by someone who knows their way around a camera. They weren’t developed in a standard lab, like someone had taken them to a one-hour photo place. They weren’t printed from a digital image to a photo printer. This is old school, likely developed at home, using a pretty rare set of chemicals and printed on photo paper that’s made in Europe. This is someone who takes photography seriously. And while you may feel just threatened when you look at these, a couple of the psych profilers felt like he was trying to…make it art. He didn’t just snap pictures. He looked for symmetry, lighting, interesting angles. There’s no sloppy work here. ”

  Reggie? Her friend, Reggie? No…

  But she didn’t know anyone else with a passion for photography, who thoroughly disdained the photo printers popular for digital cameras. Total crap, he called them. Not worth wasting an image on. She didn’t know anyone else who had a darkroom in their apartment.

  Morgan went numb. Breath rushed from her body. Reggie, who was like a father?

  No!

  Not many people knew her address in Los Angeles. Reggie did—along with her schedule. He could have snuck in and masturbated on her bed in her absence. Reggie was one of the few people who knew exactly when she’d gone to Houston and exactly where.

  She rubbed her forehead against a sudden ache. Reggie? Could he have been in Texas to take pictures of her in Brandon’s backyard a few days ago? She always talked to Reggie via cell phone…so she didn’t know exactly where he was. Anything was possible. And if Reggie had come that far to stalk her, well, he alone had known she intended to go to Lafayette to meet Jack. Following her a bit farther wouldn’t have been that difficult.

  Had Reggie, the father she’d never had, taken secret, sexual pictures of her? Had Reggie stalked her, masturbated on her bed, tried to shoot her? No! But…who else could it be?

  Just Reggie.

  “Oh, God. ” Shock hummed through her body, buzzed in her brain. Morgan’s knees buckled. She covered her mouth with a trembling hand to keep a scream in. “Wh… I don’t… Why? I trusted Reggie. Completely. ”

  As she staggered, Jack wound his arm around her waist.

  “Steady,” he murmured.

  She stared at Jack in sudden horror. If she couldn’t trust Reggie, a man she’d known for three years as the protective lout with a heart of gold, could she trust Jack, a man she’d only known for days?

  “Morgan?” Deke’s concern resounded through the phone wire.

  She turned to look at Jack through wide eyes, pouring out uncertainty and panic. What did she know about him? Just what Reggie had told her…and that he’d tried to twist her sexuality into something she didn’t want to accept.

  She struggled to escape Jack’s hold. Flee. Squirming and writhing, she tried to break free. Now. Go someplace where no one could find her.

  “Steady. ” Jack used that patient but commanding voice Morgan knew so well.

  Something deep inside her responded instantly, wanted to heed that voice. Another part of her feared… She didn’t know what exactly. That virtually anyone could wish her harm, especially someone she trusted. Reggie only proved she couldn’t judge the character of those around her. What if she’d mistakenly trusted a stranger, not just with her safety, but with her body, her soul?

  The stranger she only knew because Reggie had passed Jack’s information her way.

  An icy chill of fear blasted through Morgan. She kicked at Jack’s shins, throwing an elbow into his stomach. He clasped her tighter and dodged her sharp jabs.

  “I’ll call you later,” Jack growled into the phone. Then he slammed a finger on the button and ended the connection with Deke.

  Jack picked her up around the waist. Morgan struggled harder, panic streaking through her belly, down her legs. He grunted when she managed to land a heel in his shin. Hope sprang inside that he’d let her go.

  He held tighter.

  Jack backed into the bedroom, dragging her with him. Morgan tried to grab the doorknob and use it as an anchor, but he was too fast, too strong.

  “Damn you, put me down!” Morgan shouted. “Put me the hell down!”

  “I know what you’re thinking,” he growled, ignoring her demand. “Stop it now. ”

  “You can’t tell me what to think, asshole. ”

  “Think logically, cher. ”

  Moments later, she found herself tossed onto the rumpled bed, flat
on her back. Faster than a flash of lightning, he covered her chilled, frantic body and pinned her to the mattress. His arms stretched out over hers, hot fingers clasped around her wrists in a gentle but unyielding vice. The weight of his longer legs secured her own against the soft sheets.

  No. The word burned across Morgan’s brain as she struggled, the need to escape and find an isolated hole to hide in overriding all else. Jack tightened above until he held her completely immobile. No!

  “Relax. ” His dark stare slammed into her, penetrating her fear with a calm, commanding stare.

  “Let me go!” Morgan tensed against him, arms, legs, doing her best to remain unyielding.

  “I know what’s running through that pretty head of yours, cher. Stop. I’m not going to hurt you. ”

  “If Reggie is guilty, then…then anyone—you—could want me bleeding, dead…”

  Her voice sounded breathy, trembling. Morgan hated the fact that her voice shook. On TV, she was the sexy bleachedblonde show hostess, professional with a hint of a wild streak. It worked. Out on the middle of the Louisiana swamps, under Jack’s roof, she was a terrified natural redhead who hated this crappy, helpless feeling, hated being out of her element physically, mentally, environmentally…sexually.

  Jack frowned, concern etching the furrow between his brows. “You’re thinking with adrenaline, Morgan, not logic. Don’t. We’ve been here alone for two days. At any time, I could have hurt you, if that was my intent. ”

  Morgan paused, panting. Her mind raced. Jack’d had a million opportunities to rape or kill her—or both. He’d done neither. But coming down off the ledge wasn’t that simple.

  “How do I know you’re not toying with me, waiting for me to lower my guard and completely trust you before you move in for the kill? What do I know about you at all?”

  Jack paused, those endless chocolate eyes drilling into her, breathtaking in their stark sincerity and tight with frustration. “I am not your stalker. Nor am I in league with the scumbag. If you’d listen to your gut, you would know that. ”

  “You never had any sort of plan to harm me?”

  “Harm you?” He pinned her with a stare stripped of everything except resentment and honesty. “Who helped you escape the shooter? Who brought you to safety?”

  She answered with a pregnant pause, her mind racing. Clearly, Jack hadn’t harmed her, despite constant opportunities. He had saved her that day in Lafayette; she knew that. She just didn’t understand why.

  “Damn you, what have I done to earn your distrust?” he demanded. “Not one fucking thing except try to make you see who you really are and what you pretend not to want. ”

  “Three days ago I’d barely heard your name,” Morgan shouted into his tense face. “Now I’m supposed to place my sexuality and my entire life in your hands and think nothing of it? How many men would just…risk their lives to help a stranger?”

  “That’s what a soldier does every day, Morgan. ” He clutched at her wrists, holding her tight. “He puts his ass on the line to protect the citizens of his country, most of whom he’ll never know. I was a soldier for too many years to change. Then I became a bodyguard. I wasn’t going to stand there and watch you die. ”

  The white haze of panic began to lift from her mind as Morgan processed his words. Jack had saved her because that’s who he was. Maybe his behavior was part instinct, part chivalry. If he was working with Reggie to kill her, he was taking his sweet time. And that didn’t seem Jack’s style.

  Okay, so it wasn’t likely that he was Reggie’s partner in some grand scheme, but something still niggled at her. Something didn’t feel quite right.

  “So helping me in Lafayette had nothing to do with being on TV?”

  Braced on his elbows that now framed her face, he shook his head. “I could give a shit about being on TV. Honestly, I saved you because I had to. That’s my job. But I also did it because I wanted to touch you. The first time I talked to you

  online…something was there between us. ” He kissed his way down her jaw. “I sensed your innocence, your curiosity and uncertainty. That day we had coffee on the Square, the sight of you was like a punch to my gut. You and your aroused reluctance made me want you so bad I couldn’t breathe. Within five seconds of meeting you, I was looking for ways to stretch out our meeting, to touch you. I want you still. ”

  Her pulse leapt as if it had found a trampoline. Wow, he’d just…laid it all out on the table. Shock tumbled through her, causing words and thoughts to trip over one another. Yes. No. She wanted. She shouldn’t. Instead, she swallowed, uncertain what she should say.

  “You want me, too. ”

  His pronouncement, stated like arrogant fact, startled her. But she couldn’t deny it. Of course she wanted Jack. Even as he hovered over her and anchored her wrists to the bed again, a decidedly sexual question in his chocolate eyes, her nipples hardened. She felt herself getting wet once more.

 
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