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Authors: Kit Rocha

Tags: #Romance, #Adult

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"We live in the slums of paradise, sweetheart." Mad looked down at the O'Kane logo tattooed around her wrist--the same logo inked around both of his. "Do you know what the street value is on a
bit of conscience? Don't undersell it."

"I only have it because I can afford to." She hated the almost frantic edge that tinged the words. "If I couldn't, you'd better believe it'd be gone."

"You can afford it." His words were intent, a quiet answer to the desperation she wanted to hide. "You're an O'Kane. Hell, you're the next best thing to

"Don't let him hear you say that." Lex took a step back, then another. "If Dallas finds out we were out tonight, do me a favor, huh? Don't tell him anything."

"You asking me to lie to the king of Sector Four?"

"Hell, no. Just keep some shit to yourself." She flashed Mad her most irreverent smile. "Buck up. I've been doing it for years, and I'm still kicking."

If Dallas O'Kane had an ounce less self-control, he'd have found a way to plant a tracker on Lex to preserve his peace of mind.

The tech existed, though most people would have to give up eating for months to get their hands on it. In the four decades since the solar storms had obliterated life as humanity had known it, technology had become a luxury enjoyed by the privileged and the powerful--or those willing to cater to vices the powerful were privileged enough to be allowed to enjoy.

Dallas had gotten rich off other men's vices, for all that he allowed himself only a few. The fantasy of tracking Lex was one of them. Eden was the morally righteous city of the future--they must have come up with a hundred ways to keep tabs on the many sins of their citizens.

Not that they needed to trouble themselves with covert surveillance. The Council tracked their sheep right out in the open, like any self-respecting theocratic oligarchy. No one dared to breathe a word of protest, even when the councilmen parked their intrusive little spy drones right up some poor bastard's ass.

Sometimes Dallas envied them the bliss of blind obedience. Sometimes.

whispered a taunting inner voice. Dallas ignored it and dropped the butt of his cigarette to the cracked pavement, grinding it under the heel of his boot. He was all but invisible in the shadow of the garage, but from here he had a good vantage point of the side gate. If Lex was going to sneak back into the O'Kane compound, this was the likeliest place.

Blind obedience would never be a problem for Dallas as long as Lex was around, so any tracking mechanism he planted on her would
to be covert. Something unobtrusive that could be sewn into her favorite leather jacket or those shit-kicking boots with the heels that made her legs go on forever.

If she found out, he'd be the one getting kicked, and the fantasy of Lex coming at him with violence and passion all twisted up was a vice he didn't have time to indulge.

But fuck, it was a hot fantasy.

The scuff of boots interrupted his reverie, and Jasper's face flared out of the darkness as he lit a cigarette. "Last shipment's on its way. We had to siphon one of the trucks for enough diesel to run the club's generators, but we managed to keep the lights on 'til closing."

"Good work." Keeping the club open on blackout nights was worth the hassle. Anyone who wasn't out looting or had finished lining their pockets showed up to watch the girls dance, or to pickle their livers on the lifeblood of Sector Four--O'Kane liquor. "How's your lady handling her first night without lights?"

"Noelle's all right. She doesn't love it, but hey. The sectors are already darker than Eden, right?"

"Damn near every day." Dallas reached into his vest for his battered cigarette case as he studied Jasper. His right-hand man had the easy smugness of a guy getting laid well and often, a fact Dallas might have resented more if Jasper and Noelle hadn't been willing, even eager, to include him in their sexual adventures.

But he wasn't the only one they included. And if Lex had drifted back into the compound through the main doors, Jasper's girl was the one most likely to know where she was. "Don't suppose Noelle's seen Lex?"

Jas shook his head. "Nah, not tonight. But I can let you know if she shows up at our place."

Dallas paused with his lighter open but unstruck. "Does that happen a lot?"

"Often enough." The corner of Jasper's mouth quirked up. "Had to get a bigger bed."

There was a mental image to give any man a raging hard-on. Sleek, hungry Lex climbing into bed with dreamy-eyed Noelle. A sexy, gorgeous sector woman and a soft, curvy princess out of Eden, tangled together. Naked.

And Jasper, the lucky bastard, getting to have them both in his damn bed. "What a hardship," Dallas drawled. "Must be rough."

A creak interrupted his reply. "You bragging again, Jas?" Lex closed the side gate and fixed the man with a challenging look. "Whatever happened to not kissing and telling?"

"Guess I'm not as well-mannered as you thought." He grinned at Dallas as he turned back toward the garage. "Good night. To both of you."

Dallas took his time lighting his cigarette, waiting until the door shut behind Jasper to click his lighter closed. "I'm surprised you're not curled around Noelle right now. You know city folk don't like the dark."

"She has Jasper." Lex was dressed in head-to-toe black and zipped up all the way to her chin. "Besides, I was busy."

"Mmm, busy." Even though his eyes had adjusted to the dark, she was barely more than a shadow. He couldn't see her face or judge her expression, which would have been a disadvantage with anyone else. With Lex, it never mattered. She'd been trained from the cradle to show the world only what she wanted it to see. "We're not under lockdown anymore, love, but you picked a hell of a night to go for a stroll."

"I know. But I brought you something." She stepped into the center of the courtyard and held out her hand. Moonlight glinted off her hair and the small glass jar in her palm. "It's strawberry."

"Jam?" Something that cost more than liquor or tech. Fresh produce was always at a premium in the sectors, since it had to be lovingly cultivated in dry, scorched earth or shipped in from the rustic communes far beyond the city. "Where in hell did you find this?"

"I have my methods." She wiggled the jar teasingly. "Well, do you want it or not?"

Dallas caught the jar and her hand along with it, folding her fingers under his. "Tell me you had backup, Lex."

"I'm not dense, Dallas."

, not his given name. Not
, the two syllables he only heard from her. Tenderness and rage brought them forth, and it was no wonder he had a hard time separating the two. At least now he knew she wasn't completely pissed. Yet.

He could fix that. "Good. Then I won't take you over my knee for sneaking out."

She stiffened, and a rueful, mocking smile curved her lips. "I almost forgot. Property of Dallas O'Kane, whether I like it or not."

Not a civilized thought, but this wasn't a civilized world, and he'd never pretended to be a civilized man. Letting his cigarette fall to the ground, he snatched the jar out of her hand and twisted her wrist until the moonlight spilled over her tattoo cuffs with the O'Kane logo. "Damn straight, honey. You and everyone else."

"Me and everyone else," she echoed flatly.

He ran his thumb over the skull etched into her skin. "You regretting taking ink, love?"

"No." She hesitated. "But would it matter if I said yes?"

His blood chilled. "O'Kane for life, isn't that the promise?"

"From the day I first darkened your door." Lex tugged at her hand. "I'm tired. I want to go to bed."

Resisting the urge to ask whose bed, Dallas released her and took a step back. Personal space, it turned out, wasn't optional when it came to Lex and his self-control. "I'll find out when the power's coming back on. We'll need to push Jas and Noelle's party back until it does."

"I'll take care of it." Lex cradled her wrist, rubbing it gently, as if to erase his touch. "I always do, don't I?"

"You always do," he agreed, closing his hand around empty air. The harder he clutched at her, the faster she slipped away. It had always been true, but it had gotten worse since she'd been shot. Money could buy regenerative technology that healed flesh, but nothing could rid him of the image of her bleeding out on the club's stage.

He couldn't stop tightening his fists, even when he threatened to crush her.

Chapter Two

"You heard me." Lex took one last gulp of her water, capped the bottle, and tugged on the oiled leather of her waistband until her pants were riding low, almost off her hips. "Right across here."

Ace wheeled his stool closer and studied her bare abdomen for a moment before flicking his dark gaze up to meet hers. "Lex, honey. You're the light of my life, so I ask this with love. Are you fucking high?"

O'Kane for life.
Dallas's words, and they hadn't stopped reverberating in her head for three goddamn days. "Just showing my dedication to the cause."

"Uh-huh." Ace folded his tattooed arms across his chest. "And what cause is that, sister? Giving our fearless leader some sort of cardiac event?"

"Why would it do that? It's not a mark." Though it'd serve him right if she went ahead and had Ace wrap the ink around her throat for all to see. "Call it a tribute."

"A tribute." Ace huffed and smoothed his thumb over her belly button. "You're asking me to ink Dallas O'Kane's name into your flesh without his knowledge. May not be a mark, but it's still some kind of ballsy."

She'd rather chew off her tongue than discuss her reasons--her highly fucking personal reasons--with anyone, even Ace. "You don't want to? Okay." She sat up on the table. "I can think of three guys right off the top of my head who'd probably do it for free, anyway."

He stared at her, his handsome face slightly less appealing with his mouth hanging open. "You're fucking serious, aren't you?"

She opened her mouth to say
, but what came out instead skirted uncomfortably close to confession. "He's been threatening me with it long enough. I can't go a damn day around here without him reminding me that he owns me, so I think it's time

Ace's brow furrowed in a frown. "Threatening you?"

Not quite the right word. "Warning me, maybe. Just give me the ink, Ace."

As careless and vapid as he could be at times, there was nothing shallow in his eyes now, just affection and concern and a steely sort of resolve. "I don't lay marks on women who don't want them, Alexa, not even for Dallas. Tell me this is all your own idea. Swear to me."

He couldn't help the concern, as misplaced as it was. She sighed and laid her hand on his cheek. "You're sweet, but you know I wouldn't let him strong-arm me into this. I'd strangle him with his own belt first."

"Maybe you would, at that, doll." He caught her hand and laid a smacking kiss on her knuckles. "But you owe me for threatening to let someone else defile one of
canvases with inferior work."

"Great, now I'm an inanimate object." Lex pushed her pants low again and lay back, pillowing her head on her arm. "You know I'd never actually let anyone else near me with a needle."

"I should hope not." Ace studied her for another moment before spinning his stool to rummage around on the table behind him. "Fine, girl. Did you have any ideas about the particulars, or are you going to let me do my thing?"

"I want his name. The rest is up to you."

"Which name?"

Lex stilled. Oh, it was tempting to take things all the way, to write his given name on her skin. But there was a difference, subtle but certain, between belonging to Dallas and belonging to Declan. One was simple, a role she should have already taken on officially. The other...

The other was forever.

"Dallas," she whispered.

"Dallas, it is." Ace rolled back to her side with a fistful of pens and markers. "So. Dare I ask what the lug did to piss you off this time? Seems like he's been too busy to get in trouble."

"He always finds the time." She tugged at a short, dark lock of hair that curled over Ace's ear. "What about you? You've been hiding out lately."

"Busy, love. That's all." He uncapped a pen and frowned. "Nope, the angle's wrong. Hop into the chair so I can make myself comfy between your thighs."

Ace's flirting was far more forced than his usual casual overtures. Lex arched an eyebrow at him as she slid off the table and shimmied out of her pants. "You're trying to change the subject."

"There's a subject more interesting than your thighs?"

"Hard to believe, but yes."

Ace swung around to tilt the chair back, then situated himself on the rolling stool between her knees. "You missed a show in here yesterday, sister. I laid the last of Noelle and Jasper's marks."

Lex curled her fingers around the leather armrests. "How did you pry them apart long enough to finish the tattoos?"

"It was damn near an act of God, I'll tell you that." His pen tickled her skin with the first slow stroke. "Not that I mind the show. But why am I telling you? You know how hot they are together."

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