Dirty wicked, p.5
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       Dirty Wicked, p.5
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         Part #11.5 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
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  expected. And sometimes, he didn’t seem like a bad guy at all. He was definitely dangerous; Mike hadn’t been wrong about that. But even with Nick’s audacious sexual demands, he didn’t seem dangerous to her. And if she was honest, the memory of him on top of her, pinning her down, gaze penetrating hers, made her breath catch.

  God, she was in way over her head. The situation—Clifford, the danger, Harper’s illness, Nick’s demands, her own crazy attraction to him—was spinning beyond her control. She had to start making some decisions now. Dithering could get everyone killed.

  “Let us help watch Harper for you,” London implored, then cast a sidelong glance across the room. “You and Nick are up to your eyeballs in trouble, and I’m worried what will happen if you take your daughter along. We owe Nick. You’re the only other thing I’ve ever seen him care about. You need him…and I think he needs you.”

  Sasha resisted that notion. “I don’t have anything left to give him.”

  “You do.” London didn’t spell it out, just looked as if she knew the truth and thought Sasha was being a coward for not facing it.

  “I’m helping him take Clifford down. That’s all he needs.”

  “Don’t you want revenge, too? That crooked bastard killed your husband.”

  Of course Sasha wanted vengeance for Mike, but she owed her daughter a normal childhood. So far, all Harper had known was being homeless, dirt poor, and afraid. Maybe…if she and Nick managed the seemingly impossible, her baby could someday have a home and toys and a safe school in a lovely neighborhood. Maybe Harper would forget all about this terrible time in their lives.

  “All right. I’ll go.” Sasha’s voice shook. “Harper can stay with you.”

  With a sigh of relief, London laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Thank God. I know that was a tough decision. I promise, we’ll do everything in our power to protect her.”

  “I believe you.” And Sasha did. Something about London’s demeanor told her the woman had overcome devastation. Because London understood pain and suffering, she would never heap them on anyone else.

  The blonde hugged her. Then Sasha heard London’s soft voice in her ear. “Nick needs you in other ways. Don’t be afraid of whatever is between you. He’s a good guy with a crappy past who got framed for a vicious crime. What he needs most isn’t your help, but your caring.”

  Before Sasha could reply, London backed away and cozied up next to Harper on the floor. Blinking, Sasha stared. What could she say? The only thing between her and Nick right now was Mike’s missing evidence and her agreement to be his mistress for the month.

  She lifted her gaze to the man. A tingling wave of awareness spread through her. Hunger darkened his face. Her heart careened wildly. Would he want the first installment of his payment tonight?

  “Sasha?” he asked, glancing at London playing with Harper on the blanket.

  “She’s not coming with us.” Sasha knew she would fall apart when the time came to leave her baby—her most important reason for living—behind.

  “Good.” He nodded her way, then glanced out the window. “It will be dark in thirty. We’ll leave then.”

  That meant she had to pack up the clothes Nick had washed for Harper, along with the pretty new things the Santiagos had apparently brought and her new medicine. In less than five minutes, she was handing a little bag to London, then pulling Harper into her lap.

  God, the thought of leaving her baby hurt. She asked herself again what kind of mother would leave her daughter, but the answer was simple: the sort who wanted her child to live.

  “Baby, you’re going to go spend a few days with Ms. London and Dulce. They have lots of toys and I’ll bet if you asked, they’d feed you some ice cream. Okay?”

  “Icth cream?” Harper’s face lit up, her smile so much like Mike’s.

  She nodded. “Does that sound good?”

  Harper bobbed her head excitedly.

  “We’ll have lots of fun,” London promised.

  “Yeah!” Harper hugged the teddy bear in her grip.

  It seemed like a blink later that Xander cradled a sleeping Dulce and hustled his brother out the door. Their wife followed, carrying all of Harper’s worldly belongings on her shoulder and holding the little girl’s hand. To Sasha’s surprise, Harper didn’t cling to her mother, just hugged her.

  “I’ll miss you,” Sasha whispered.

  “Miss you, mama.” The girl planted a sweet kiss on her cheek. “Come back soon?”

  Sasha certainly hoped so, but she refused to make a promise she might not be able to keep. “I’ll do my very best.”

  “Who wants chicken nuggets for dinner?” London distracted the girl.

  With one last squeeze, Harper turned back to the other woman. “With frewnch fries?”

  London laughed. “Of course.”

  “I love you,” Sasha called out to her baby.

  “Love you.” Harper waved, more intent on London’s promise of fried food.

  As her daughter disappeared around the corner, London looked her way with a silent promise that Harper would be safe.

  Thank you, she mouthed.

  Then they were gone.

  Sasha pressed her lips together and gripped the threshold, doing her best not to fall to her knees and sob. What if she never saw her daughter again?

  Suddenly, Nick wrapped strong hands around her shoulders and braced her. He drew her back against his big chest and cradled her. “Harper will be all right.”

  He said that like it was a fact.

  “I haven’t been away from her since she was fifteen months old.” When Sasha closed her eyes, tears leaked from the corners.

  Mike’s funeral. She’d left her daughter with a neighbor during the graveside service because it had been scorching and cloying and pouring down rain. With every word from the minister’s lips, she’d been silently praying to God to help Mike’s soul rest easy and to keep Harper safe.

  “It’s better for her,” Nick reminded her in a calm voice.

  Sasha knew that. It just didn’t feel that way. “We’re leaving here?”

  “Now,” he confirmed as he released her.

  She suddenly felt cold again. “I’m ready. I already gathered my things.”

  It took less than two minutes for him to shut off all the lights, grab their bags, and lead her out into the alley.

  The evening was crisp. Sasha pulled her sweater tighter around her. Nick watched everything around them as he slung his backpack and her duffel over his shoulder and guided her down the road with a hot palm at her back.

  In fifteen silent minutes, they reached a parking garage. Nick sneaked his way around the security guard, ducked under a series of video surveillance cameras, then crept through the shadows and up the stairs until they reached a black SUV on the third floor, near an executive entrance door.

  Glancing one last time over his shoulder, Nick knelt to grab the keys from a magnetic box under the wheel well and unlocked the vehicle with a beep. He opened the passenger door. “Get in.”

  She did as he stowed their bags. “How are we going to get out without being seen?”

  “Easy,” he assured as he climbed in beside her. “The license plate is registered to the corporation. Vehicle’s new.”

  She could smell the pristine leather and off-the-factory-floor parts. “So?”

  “The windows are tinted. No one will be able to see us. I’m sure it’s equipped with a sticker to get us out of this garage without having to even roll down a window. The question is, where are we going? What do you know?”

  While Nick backed out of the parking spot and the SUV glided down the ramp, she tried to recollect everything she’d done to solve the puzzle Mike had left her. Nick’s big fingers around the steering wheel distracted her. His thumb tapped the leather beneath—the same thumb he’d brushed across her nipple last night. She shivered with pleasure at the memory.

  True to his word, when they reached the exit, the security arm lifted withou
t them having to engage the guard at the exit.

  “Sasha?”

  His deep voice demanded an answer. She didn’t know what to say. “I’ve been over and over this. He left me a message, and I’m still not sure what it means.”

  “Tell me.”

  Wringing her hands, Sasha tried to squelch hope from burgeoning again. So many times over the past interminable months, she’d thought she had the answer to this mystery. Failure dashed her every time. She wasn’t sure if she could take it again.

  On the other hand, she had no choice. Her future—and her daughter’s—depended on it.

  “The day before Mike’s murder, he arranged to have flowers sent to the house on what became the day of his funeral. Inside the envelope was a card that didn’t make any sense and this.” She pulled up a long chain she’d tucked under her shirt with a mysterious key attached.

  Nick reached over and slid the key into his palm. She felt the heat of his hand radiating to her chest. A jolt of something more than awareness fluttered through Sasha. It refused to subside, no matter how much she tensed against it.

  A bump in the road jerked them. His knuckles brushed the swells of her breasts. A gasp slipped out before she could stop it.

  His stare zipped up to her, and she felt caught. Could he see her heart pounding? Feel her nipples beading?

  Suddenly, he released the key and leaned back into his seat, focused on the dark road ahead. “What did the card say?”

  Sasha tried to string two thoughts together. “Um, gibberish, really. Something about it being Han Solo’s turn to stop Darth Vader by finding the ammunition in the Death Star. He even signed the card as Luke Skywalker.”

  Frowning, Nick heaved a long sigh. “That sly motherfucker.”

  She tensed, searching his pensive face. “What do you mean? Did that make sense to you.”

  Nick nodded. “I know where he hid his evidence. Sit back. We’re heading to New Orleans.”

  Chapter Three

  Near the airport off I-10, Nick checked them into an old motel unlikely to have much in the way of high-tech security. Midnight had just fallen. Despite napping in the car, Sasha looked damn near ready to collapse. Her eyelids drooped. Her shoulders sagged. How long had it been since she’d had a decent night’s sleep? Since she’d felt safe enough to have one?

  After he parked around back, in a spot not visible from the road, he pushed his way into the dingy room and glanced back cautiously. No one inhabited the parking lot. No one had followed.

  Shouldering his way past Sasha, he drew his gun and prowled around the room, checking every corner and closet. Empty. “Come in. Shut the door. Lock and deadbolt it.”

  She did, her gaze skittering over the kitchenette, the loveseat in front of the vintage TV, grimy windows, and crappy carpet. Nick saw the instant she realized the room had one bed. He’d done it to keep her close. And because he’d been a stupid bastard too tempted to pass up the opportunity to hold her, even if all they did was sleep. It had been a long time since he’d just breathed in a female and held her body against his. And he craved touching this woman.

  “Now what?” Sasha made her way into the room, her nervous gaze jerky, her respiration unsteady. “Are we going to the location tonight?”

  Nick shook his head. “I need to call Xander for a little help first. I also need to ask you some questions.”

  “Me? I’ve told you everything.”

  “That you think is relevant,” he corrected. “Tell me about the week leading up to Mike’s death. His body was discovered on Friday morning, right?”

  Nick already knew the answer to that. The moment he’d heard the news—one of his last while out on bail—was forever seared in his brain. His rigged trial had begun the day of Mike’s murder. The evening he’d learned of his friend’s demise, he’d officially become a convicted rapist.

  Wasn’t the timing ironic?

  “Yes. But I knew something was wrong on Wednesday night,” she said. “He came home late. He was too quiet. Very distracted. When I asked if he was all right, he said something had happened at work and he didn’t want to talk about it. After dinner, he sequestered himself in his home office. He didn’t come to bed until…late.”

  “He called me that Wednesday night and told me that Clifford was onto him. He wanted to know how to protect you and Harper.” Nick shook his head. “I instructed him to leave you a list of account names, passwords, and contacts, so you’d have ready cash and help.”

  That had her gaping in surprise. “You did?”

  He nodded. “Mike was afraid for his safety but he was more worried about you two.”

  “That sounds like him. He didn’t come home Thursday night. Didn’t answer texts or phone calls. I left voice mails…” Sasha fought tears valiantly. “In the middle of the night, I started looking through his home office for clues. At first, I wondered if he had a lover or something, but the night before…” She blushed, and Nick could guess that Mike had made love to his wife, fearing it would be the last time. “In the top drawer, in an envelope with my name written on the front, sat a letter which accounted for every dime we had saved. I knew something terrible had happened then. A police office knocked on my door a few hours later.”

  Goddamn it. “I’m sorry. I promised Mike I’d take care of you. Even as my trial was going on, I hoped I wouldn’t actually be convicted.” And he felt like shit that he’d been dumb enough to be framed and had been unable to keep his promise. “I hoped truth and logic would prevail. I never even got to testify on my own behalf and bring up the fact that Fiona was Clifford’s niece or that I’d been investigating the crooked DA. I found out later that the bastard had threatened my attorney’s children.”

  Sasha looked stunned. “How is Clifford still holding office?”

  Nick grimaced. “Like all successful politicians, he smiles well, placates his special interests, and is a damn good liar.”

  “Well…all that detailed information you told him to leave me was a saving grace. After Mike’s funeral that Monday, I withdrew every dime we had. I put the house up for sale, quit my job, sold my car, withdrew Harper from preschool. Clifford’s goons threatened me before we could go underground with our stash of cash. I’ve had some close calls since then. There was once I would have sworn we wouldn’t escape—” She bit back the rest, as if she’d rather forget.

  “It’s all right.” He caressed her shoulder, then paced to the chair across the room. “I just wish like hell I’d gotten out sooner or been able to talk to you. It would have saved you a lot of shit.”

  “You really know where Mike stashed his evidence?” She breathed as if his assertion was too good to believe.

  He nodded. “I’m pretty sure. Did Mike ever tell you how we met?”

  “He said you beat up some bullies who were bothering him.”

  A little smile tugged at his lips. “Mike and I probably should never have been friends. He was a scrawny thirteen-year-old from swanky Lakeshore Drive. I was a seventeen-year-old with a record who lived near the projects. My dad had run off, and my mom moved us here from Jersey. She thought it would be romantic to live in New Orleans.” He snorted. “It would have been better if she’d had a job and some cash saved. They should never have called that shithole we moved to Desire; no one wanted to live there. But Mike and some church youth group came to the ’hood on a do-gooder mission to change our lives for an afternoon or whatever. He got separated from his adult handler. He was so shiny that he looked rich, and some of the kids on my block were shaking him down for the goodies in his pockets and beating the hell out of him in the process.”

  “You stopped them,” Sasha murmured, cocking her head as if she was seeing him for the first time.

  Nick didn’t want her getting the idea that he was any sort of hero. “I don’t like an unfair fight. I evened the odds, is all.”

  “But you didn’t have to. You chose to.” She sent him a dissecting frown. “Just like you could have shut the door in my face l
ast night. Or taken advantage of me when I was on my knees. Why didn’t you?”

 
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