Dirty wicked, p.4
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       Dirty Wicked, p.4
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         Part #11.5 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
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  Xander cursed. “If you change your mind, the door is always open.”

  With a tense nod, Nick reached for the remote and flipped on the TV to see a group of suits reliving their former football glory days by drawing Xs and Os on a whiteboard and blustering at one another about the college squads scheduled to compete.

  A few minutes later, London poked her head into the family room. “Food’s on, boys.”

  “God, I love that woman,” Javier professed as he rose, sniffing at something savory.

  The smell made Nick’s mouth water, too. Damn, he’d missed country sausage and gravy.

  He and Xander followed Javier into the breakfast nook. They all took their seats around the table, Dulce bouncing on Javier’s knee and sticking her little tongue out for some baby oatmeal London had fixed. Everyone else dug in to the hearty heaps of eggs, potatoes, and the amazing sage-rich sausage—except Sasha. She picked, far more concerned with trying to feed Harper than herself.

  London finished a helping of eggs and some Greek yogurt, then pushed her plate away. “Sasha, why don’t you let me try to coax Harper to eat?”

  “We’re fine. Finish your breakfast.”

  The woman was so stubborn it made Nick want to grit his teeth.

  “I’m done,” London insisted, wrinkling her nose. “I’ve still got a few pounds of baby weight to lose, and even though I’m not pregnant anymore, I still can’t eat breakfast with the kind of gusto I used to.”

  At her grimace, Sasha looked down at Harper. The girl’s eyes were half open, her cheeks red as she shifted listlessly.

  “If it upsets her, I’ll bring her right back. But no offense, honey”—sympathy filled London’s face—“you look like you could use a decent meal.”

  Nick watched their conversation, more than a bit surprised when Sasha slanted her gaze his way. She wasn’t looking for permission, but she sought his reassurance. Interesting…

  He bent close to the little girl. “Harper?”

  The child blinked her big green eyes up at him. God, she had so many of Mike’s features that looking at her hurt.

  The girl didn’t speak but he had her attention. “Would you like to meet my friend?”

  London waved at the girl. “Hi, Harper. I have a pink donut with sprinkles on it just for you…”

  That made the little girl smile. She wriggled on Sasha’s lap, seeking a way down. Nick plucked her up and walked her around the table to London. Harper went to the woman right away, looking up at her with unabashed curiosity as she brushed a honey-colored curl from her wary eyes with little fingers.

  “Hi, pretty girl. I’m London,” she cooed. “I’m guessing you like donuts.”

  Harper nodded. “Yesth.”

  She had the cutest lisp, and it tugged at something in Nick’s chest.

  “Can you get me the white bag on the counter?” London pointed vaguely.

  “Sure.” Nick plucked the bag from the gray slab next to the stove.

  “Find the pink donut inside. And how about a plate?”

  Nick fished out the pastry in question, then retrieved a dessert plate for the kid, whose eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning. When he set it on the plate, Harper grabbed it.

  Xander and Javier laughed. Sasha sent her daughter a fond smile so sad, it nearly ripped out his guts. She was questioning every decision she’d made as a mother, despite the fact that she’d had so few choices.

  “Why don’t you break it into sections for her?” London asked him. “Then Harper will be ready to eat.” She peeked around to the girl’s face. “Won’t you?”

  “Pleath.” Harper bounced on her lap.

  Nick broke the pastry into four manageable pieces and set all but one on the plate. The last he handed to the girl, who grabbed it with a smile before she shoved it into her mouth with a noisy smack.

  Everyone laughed again. She really was a cute kid.

  As Harper settled in with her donut, London added a few eggs and potatoes to the plate. With a combination of jokes, smiles, and silly faces, London persuaded the girl to eat roughly half the food.

  The doorbell rang. Nick whipped out his phone. Two minutes until nine.

  “The doctor?” Sasha asked.

  “Should be. Stay here.” He rose and headed out of the kitchen.

  Once he’d cleared Harper’s line of sight, he unholstered his gun, keeping it tucked against his side as he cautiously opened the door. He made a mental note to ask Xander why the hell the place didn’t have a damn peephole.

  On the other side, he found a young female. The Asian woman looked petite and intelligent and not at all put off by his demeanor. “Mr. Navarro?”

  “Dr. Minn?” At her nod, he holstered his weapon and threw the door wide. “Come in.”

  “Where’s Harper?”

  “Finishing breakfast.”

  He led the doctor to the kitchen. She hugged London and brushed a fond caress on the top of baby Dulce’s head, then turned her attention to Harper. After a glance she frowned and looked across the table to Sasha. “Can you bring her to one of the bedrooms so I can examine her?”

  Sasha rose, plucked her daughter from London’s lap with a whispered thanks, then disappeared down the hall. Nick stood awkwardly and watched them go. He wanted to know what was happening, had the most irrational need to stay beside Sasha. But Harper wasn’t his daughter. Her medical condition wasn’t any of his business.

  London nudged his shoulder with her own. “Follow her.”

  “She wouldn’t appreciate my intrusion.” Nick already knew Sasha was a deeply private person.

  “You’re too smart to act this stupid. She’s afraid and she needs a shoulder to lean on.”

  Like she’d ever allow the man who’d ordered her to put out to comfort her? “I’m sure she’d rather have a calming female presence.”

  Before he finished speaking, London shook her head. “Sasha feels like her sky is falling. She needs a pillar to keep the roof over her head.”

  Another woman couldn’t do that for her?

  London sighed as if she was losing patience. “She needs someone stoic who won’t bend under pressure. She needs someone she perceives as stronger than her to rely on.”

  “But she’s already strong. Given how underhanded and relentless Walter Clifford is, the fact that she’s kept herself and Harper alive since Mike’s murder is pretty much a miracle.”

  “But it’s been a struggle. Can’t you see that?”

  Hard to miss. He nodded.

  “I can guarantee that, at times, she’s felt both very afraid and very alone. At the risk of sounding hopelessly unfeminist, she needs a man.” London shook her head. “She needs you.”

  Nick doubted he could be what she needed but he owed Mike. He owed Sasha, too. “I’ll take care of her.”

  Letting out a nervous breath, he made his way down the hall and paused in the threshold of the bedroom. The doctor had her stethoscope pressed to Harper’s back as the child took rattled breaths. Sasha watched with worried eyes and a taut mouth.

  Dr. Minn plucked the device from her ears and hung it around the back of her neck. “If I could X-ray her properly, I could tell you with absolute certainty what ails your daughter. Since that’s not possible, I’m going to say that given her high fever, wheezing, and productive cough, she has pneumonia.”

  The air left Sasha’s body as she froze, stood unmoving, not even to draw her next breath.

  Holy shit. Harper’s condition was far more serious than he’d imagined. Nick was damn glad Sasha had come to him when she had.

  “Since it took her about four days to develop, it sounds viral, rather than bacterial, so giving her antibiotics won’t do any good,” the doctor went on. “But I don’t like the way your daughter is breathing. If you won’t admit her to the hospital, which is where she should be, she needs to stay home and rest a great deal, drink a lot of fluids, eat frequent but small meals, and be on oxygen.”

  “That’s not possible.” Sasha’
s voice trembled.

  “Then I can’t guarantee your daughter will recover.” The doctor sounded clipped and disapproving.

  The pediatrician didn’t know Sasha’s situation, so she couldn’t possibly understand the woman’s quandary. Still, Nick wanted to slap her and tell her not to judge.

  Instead, he focused on Sasha. Worry stamped itself all over her face. How would Harper ever get that kind of rest and care when their very survival depended on them relocating ASAP—and probably more than once? He could actually see her weighing the probability that Harper would die if they stayed on the run versus the likelihood Clifford would slaughter them all if they risked calling a place home even temporarily.

  In that instant, he saw what London meant. Sasha had borne everything, made all the decisions…and endured each painful consequence without anyone to take an ounce of the load from her delicate shoulders. Mike would never have wanted her to carry that burden alone. Nick didn’t like her enduring so much hardship and loneliness, especially when he could handle it and had more experience with criminals.

  “Thank you, doctor.” Sasha fidgeted nervously. “Is there anything you can give Harper to help her or make her more comfortable for now?”

  After a recommendation of acetaminophen and an over-the-counter nasal decongestant, along with rest and vitamins, the doctor tucked her equipment away. “I hope she feels better.”

  “We’ll let you know if we need anything else,” Nick assured.

  When the doctor shouldered her way past him and out the door, Sasha eased Harper back into bed, looking as if she was fighting tears.

  “She’s worse than you thought.” Nick read her distress.

  “Yes.”

  “You look too overwrought to make decisions, so I’ll tell you what I see as your best course of action. Leave Harper with the Santiagos to recover while you come with me to figure out what proof Mike stashed and where.”

  Sasha looked horrified. And ready to scream. She puffed up. Color raced to her cheeks as she squared her shoulders for battle.

  Instead of screeching the no on the tip of her tongue, she grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him out of the bedroom, away from her daughter. In the hallway, she looked both ways in indecision, then tugged him toward the master—the only place in the house where no one would overhear them.

  When she slammed the door and shoved him against it, Nick couldn’t deny that he was impressed—and harder than he’d like to admit.

  “Look, I agreed to whore myself, to let you use my body however you want, to protect my daughter. I will not leave her with strangers. If you keep trying to separate her from me, I’ll—”

  Sasha pressed her lips shut, as if realizing she was about to make a threat she couldn’t carry out.

  Nick didn’t call her on it. Instead, he softened his voice. “I’ve known the Santiagos for years. They’re solid, I swear.”

  “You swear? I don’t trust you, so your opinion means nothing. I won’t do it.”

  He didn’t take pleasure in her distress, but he was glad to see her fighting spirit. She’d need it to make the right choice and survive the days ahead.

  “Sasha, how will Harper recover if we drag her to hell and back? I’m sure Mike hid his evidence well. Searching every logical spot could take days…weeks. Some places we’ll have to search in the dead of night when they’re dark and deserted. Are you going to leave Harper back at whatever low-grade motel we crash in? Or wake her up, slow down her recovery, and risk our detection to bring her with us?” he challenged.

  “I don’t know right now.” He heard the fear and frustration in her voice. “I’ll figure it out. But I’m all Harper has. All she’s ever known. I can’t abandon her. She’ll be terrified. She’s just a baby.”

  “You know Clifford is dangerous or you wouldn’t have come here and agreed to my terms.” He raised a brow at her. “Harper will be safe with the Santiagos. That bastard and his thugs will never connect your daughter to my friends. But if we take her with us and we’re caught, what do you think will happen?”

  She looked away, refusing to answer.

  “What do you think they’ll do to Harper?” he pressed on.

  Sasha closed her eyes and tensed. “Don’t.”

  “I’m sorry to be blunt, but you might as well put a bullet in her head yourself. She’s your daughter, so it’s your call.” He shook off her hold and opened the bedroom door. “Let me know what you decide. We’re leaving tonight.”

  * * * *

  The sun sank toward the horizon as Sasha’s dread climbed. She had to make a decision.

  She watched Harper on a blanket in the middle of the floor, clutching a new teddy bear under one arm as she scribbled with a fresh box of crayons across a pristine coloring book. At the moment, her daughter played more like a typical kid than she had in…well, ever.

  Sasha swallowed and glanced at London on the sofa beside her. “Thank you for bringing Harper some toys. You didn’t have to—”

  “It was our pleasure.” London grinned. “It gives my husbands a glimpse into our future.”

  Sasha wondered how and why a woman with a seemingly sweet disposition and an air of innocence had fallen for two brothers. Not that she was judging. Little shocked her anymore. She’d spent years in New Orleans, in the heart of the Quarter, where most anything was not only possible but happened regularly.

  Dulce cried in fussy whines and pants. The Santiago brothers passed her back and forth, doing their best with voices and funny faces to make their daughter smile. They loved her madly, and it showed.

  Sasha’s chest tightened. Harper would never know a father’s love. Mike was gone forever, and Sasha couldn’t imagine a future in which she met another man she’d choose to share her life—or her daughter—with.

  “She’s hungry,” she murmured to the pretty blonde with the big, winking diamond on her ring finger.

  “Yep. Some things a mother just knows.” London paused. “Listen, I realize the choice in front of you is gut-wrenching. In your shoes, I’d be falling apart. I love my husbands more than life…but the love a woman feels for her child is something else altogether. So pure and unbreakable.”

  Sasha nodded, too close to tears to speak. She’d been turning this dilemma over in her head all day. She felt nothing but tied up in knots.

  London laid a hand over hers. “Your daughter will be safe with us. I’ll be with her. Javier and Xander are protectors, and I guarantee their first call once we leave here will be to Xander’s bestie, Logan. He’s a former Navy SEAL with twin daughters of his own. Logan will fix us up with the best damn bodyguards in the state. No one will let anything happen to Harper.”

  Though that eased her mind some, Sasha bit her lip. “All that would turn your life upside down. And the expense—”

  “Sasha, Nick once helped my husbands and me in desperate times. I wouldn’t be alive today if that man hadn’t stepped in. We can never repay him. This is the one and only favor he’s ever asked of us. You and Harper are important to him, so you’re important to us. Besides, your daughter is so precious. It will be a privilege to keep her safe while she recovers.”

  Sasha was running out of reasons to refuse except the thought of being separated from her baby wrenched her heart. But refusing the Santiagos’ offer wouldn’t be best for her daughter, just easier for her own peace of mind. “You’re not worried about Dulce getting sick?”

  “I can keep the girls apart until Harper is better. Frankly, that’s one of the perks of having two husbands.”

  A smile flitted across London’s glowing face as if she paused to remember some of the other undoubtedly pleasurable perks of being married to two handsome, rich men.

  Sasha cast a glance over at Nick. He watched her intently. At times, he seemed ruthless, like the hardened criminal she’d
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