Authors: Kit Rocha
Tags: #Romance, #Adult
He kept talking in circles, and they were getting nowhere. "Okay, I'll play along." She leaned forward and snatched the cigarette. "If keeping me off your dick wasn't punishment, what was it?"
His lighter was shiny silver and etched with a skull, and it reflected the light as he swept it up and flicked it open. "Foreplay."
Lex glared at him over the flame. "We've had six years of that. Do we really need more?"
Dallas grinned. "And here I thought you girls trained us this way on purpose."
She rolled her eyes and lit the tip of the cigarette, puffing until it caught in a gentle smolder. "Rules. You show me yours, and I'll show you mine."
"Control, Lex. I want it." He snapped the lighter shut to emphasize his point before starting to roll a second cigarette. "Sometimes I'll want you to give it to me. Sometimes I'll want to take it. You need to be right with both."
It pulled the air out of her lungs. Part of her wanted to blame it on the smooth tobacco smoke, but she couldn't, not with her attention riveted to the lines of his face as he stared down at the paper in his hand.
Control. Oh, how she'd hungered to let go for a little while, to have Dallas hold it all, but the way he spoke proved he didn't know. Maybe not how much, or maybe not at all.
She opened her mouth to say something, anything remotely coherent. Instead, she sucked in a rough, ragged breath.
He lifted the second cigarette, and his gaze flicked to hers as he drew his tongue along the edge of the rolling paper, licking it like a lover.
"I don't know if I
give it," she said in a rush. "Not entirely. But you can take it. Me."
After a pause, he nodded. "Here's what we're going to do. You're going to take a day and think. Really think. And then you're going to tell me what you like, what you don't like, and what's straight-up off-limits."
There were no such things as boundaries, no limits when it came to Dallas. "And if I don't need a day?"
He lit his own cigarette and exhaled toward the ceiling. "Take it anyway. Seriously consider it--for me."
"You want me to...what? Make a list?"
"Yes," he said without hesitation. "An honest one."
"Of things I don't want you to do." Jesus, it'd take her all day to think of
. "All right. You, too."
He smiled and nodded, then changed the subject. "Tell me what you've heard about Sector Three."
"What everyone's heard--that it's falling apart. Wilson Trent may have been a piss-poor leader, but he was a leader. Now they don't have anybody calling the shots." Lex tilted her head. "You're not thinking of staging a takeover, are you? The other sector leaders might not want Three and all its problems, but if it looks like you're expanding your power base, they'll flip their shit. Guaranteed."
"It'd mean going back to late nights and double shifts," he admitted. "The money might not make up for it at first, especially if we have to bring in new bodies to hold the territory. And we'll need real friendly neighbors in Two and Five." He paused. "So, no. No takeover. Not yet, anyway."
Lex stiffened. "I wouldn't count on Two. Cerys is only
when it serves her purposes. And who the hell knows what Mac Fleming's doing half the time over in Five."
"He's cooking drugs," Dallas replied, his mouth twisting around his distaste. "Getting as rich as we are too, and maybe richer, since he plays both sides. Medicinal and recreational."
Dallas hadn't minded availing himself of Fleming's regenerative technology when Lex and Noelle had both had bullet holes in them. "He keeps to himself. No reason to cause trouble--but no reason to throw in and back you on anything, either."
Clamping his cigarette between his lips, Dallas shoved everything on his desk to one side with a careless sweep of his arm and unrolled a meticulously sketched map of Eden and the surrounding sectors. The city walls formed a near-perfect circle in the middle, with the eight main roads out of the city thrusting out like spokes on a wheel.
Dallas thumped an ashtray down in the corner near Sector Seven to secure the edge and frowned at the map. "Mad brought back some updates," he muttered around the cigarette as he jabbed his finger at an area marked with fresh ink in a slightly darker color. "Seven's in trouble. Eden seized two-thirds of their fields. Mad thinks the city's building more wind farms."
Lex rose and bent over the map, bracing her elbows on two of the other curled edges. "The ones they've already got plus the solar arrays aren't enough?"
Dallas bit off a bitter laugh. "Probably. But hell, what are a few potato farms compared to the ladies in Eden getting to use their fancy hair dryers whenever they want?"
No wonder people had been flooding into Sector Six and pushing outward, toward the wide, empty spaces away from the city. "I wonder what Eight'll do when Seven empties."
"Eight's always tricky." Dallas traced his finger over the manufacturing district that made up a healthy part of that sector. "They have to walk the line. If they don't provide Eden with the supplies they want, the city'll seize those factories. And if they make it look too profitable..."
Most of the sectors had buildings that predated the Flares--tenements for workers, factories, and warehouses that had been built to support the day-to-day functioning of Eden. But Eight and Five were the only ones with facilities that still ran, industries deemed too valuable to destroy--for now.
Three had had one too, once upon a time, a sprawling plant that produced electronics. Lex still remembered watching it burn from the top floor of the Orchid House in Sector Two, the night sky alight with flames and intermittent explosions--like the fireworks she'd read about, only deadlier.
She straightened and propped her hands on her hips. "It's all conjecture. But you know what comes next."
Dallas crushed his cigarette into the ashtray hard enough to slide the heavy glass three inches across the desk. "Yeah. I get a pretty invitation from Cerys. And the meeting will go pretty much however she wants it to, once she's buried all the sector leaders in booze and beautiful women."
"Don't hate the player," Lex teased with a wry smile. "Stay on her good side and it won't matter. Remember--she's brilliant
"Oh, I think I know something about women like that," he drawled, rolling up the map again. "Speaking of brilliance, turn a little of yours toward Six, huh? The girl, not the sector. Bren seems to think she's trustworthy, but maybe he's not seeing clearly. Dragging Wilson Trent back here for her to kill doesn't fit my definition of a courting gift, but his idea of flirting might be as twisted as his sense of humor."
"Does everything have to be about fucking?" Lex straightened with a shrug. "Maybe he just wanted to do something nice for her."
Both of Dallas's eyebrows swept up, but a moment later he was grinning at her. "You beautiful, bloodthirsty bitch."
"Mmm. Remember that when you think about pushing my buttons." Lex brushed against him as she leaned over to put out her cigarette in the ashtray. He was warm and solid, the kind of hard that came from working and fighting in equal measure. "Your place, this time tomorrow. I'll bring my list."
She got the satisfaction of hearing his breath catch, but he managed his warm, easy drawl. "I'll clear my schedule."
"Hell yeah, you will."
Jared's loft might have been wall-to-wall bare brick and exposed steel beams, but it was the swankest place in Sector Four that didn't belong to an O'Kane, and the only place outside of the compound that Ace had ever felt at home.
Sprawled on the expensive leather couch, he eyed the new sculpture of a frolicking couple that dominated one corner. It wasn't bad, for a post-Flare carving, but more loving detail had been given to the man's undeniably impressive cock than to the rest of him. The woman was a masterwork of tits and ass, with a rapturous look on her face that skated close to being comical.
Not refined enough for Jared's tastes, which could mean only one thing. "New patron's giving you gifts already, eh?"
"She's eager to please." Jared handed him a whiskey on the rocks. "But then, she'd never had an orgasm before."
So few of the women in Eden had, even the ones who moved in less elite circles than Noelle once did. Ace took a sip before gesturing to the statue with his glass. "If you put that look on her face, I'm not surprised she's buying you presents."
"Better." Jared dropped to sit in the chair opposite the couch. "I taught her how to get there herself, too."
Which was one of the many reasons he was a more successful whore than Ace had ever been. Ace's artist-in-search-of-muse shtick had opened plenty of pocketbooks and parted more than his share of trembling Eden thighs, but Jared's reputation as a connoisseur of female pleasure earned him mindless devotion and gifts that pushed him past well-off and straight into obscenely wealthy.
There'd been a time when Ace had envied his friend that success, a time before he'd fallen in with the O'Kanes and learned to untangle sex from competition and desperation. "You and Lex should exchange pointers. Have you
what she's got Cunningham's daughter doing on stage at the Broken Circle?"
"Not yet, but I heard it was positively stunning."
Stunning was a pale word to describe what Noelle and Lex got up to. "If one of Eden's angels making Lex scream for mercy turns your crank, hell yeah. You should come around next week and watch."
"And get the hard sell on signing up with the O'Kanes?" Jared shook his head. "I'm not a joiner, Ace. I don't play well with others."
He waved a hand. "Don't worry about Dallas. Didn't you hear? He finally collared Lex. We've all got a month, minimum, before he even comes up for air."
"Really now?" Jared swirled the ice in the bottom of his nearly empty glass. "Is he still interested in information about Councilman Woods?"
The question brought a pang of guilt. He came to hang out with Jared because he enjoyed the man's company, and had spent years ignoring Dallas's increasingly pointed suggestions that he leverage that friendship into a source of information. But asking about Woods hadn't been a suggestion, it had been an order.
Even Ace didn't ignore orders. "Yeah," he admitted. "Full disclosure, brother. I'd have asked eventually--the boss told me I had to. But I can tell Dallas you don't have anything, and that'll be the end of it."
Jared looked away and finally said, "He doesn't keep to Eden. Might find him out here in the sectors sometime, if you figured out where to look."
It felt carefully phrased. Deft, though Jared was always deft. Ace wasn't a fan of having to pick and choose his words or when to let his silence do the talking, so he filed the tidbit away and changed the subject. "If you don't want to swing around the club, I could always bring a party to you."
His friend ignored the offer. "He'll owe me one. Your boss."
Ace's blood chilled. "Is it that dangerous? Fuck, man. I'll go to my grave for O'Kane, if that's what I have to do, but the gang's got my back. Don't go out on a limb for him if you're not gonna take protection."
"Relax. At best, I might spook a few rich ladies." Jared grinned. "The city has them to spare, and so do I. But he'll owe me, all the same."
"Gladly, if you can give him anything. Dallas wants to spike his morning whiskey with this bastard's blood."
"Then I'll keep it in mind." Jared finished his drink and clinked the ice in his glass. "Another?"
It'd take two, minimum, to get the taste of politics out of his mouth. "You know it," he replied, holding out his glass. "Now, about that party. You have got to meet this new girl who's doing shows with me. She's got a dirty fucking mind
Jared poured the refills with a chuckle. "I'm sure she's wonderful, but is there any particular reason you're dying to bring her around here? You O'Kanes have plenty of filthy parties."
Plenty of parties he spent watching Cruz count Rachel's teeth with his tongue. "What, I can't miss hanging with an old friend?"
"I can't help but be curious as to the source of this sudden nostalgia."
Ace produced his best leer. "Maybe I miss refined debauchery. We can do wonderful things to a lady when we work together."
Jared wasn't fooled. "Does it have anything to do with how studiously you've avoided talking about Rachel lately?"
"Have I?" He hadn't thought he'd been that obvious, but he'd mostly been trying to avoid thinking about Rachel at all. Life was better simple, and there was nothing simple about the tangle of emotions evoked by her and Cruz and their fucking tongues. "Nothing to tell. She's making big eyes at Bren's military police friend."
"That's not exactly nothing," Jared replied.
His friend's voice held an uncomfortable edge of sympathy, and Ace needed more whiskey. "Nothing to
, then," he said as he leaned over to snag the bottle. "City boy doesn't share, and I don't play that game. I gambled on a slow chase, and I lost. So it goes."
"As you say. I am sorry, though. I liked her."
"You can still like her. She's not dead." Ace knocked back the whiskey, enjoying a brief moment of comfort as it burned its way down his throat and kicked him in the guts. Or maybe that kick was this conversation, battering away at his determined denial. "Sorry, brother. I'll replace your booze."
Jared snorted. "Fuck the booze. I buy it by the case, and Dallas cuts me a sweet deal."
Of course he did. "Then screw you. I'm drinking it all."
"Good." He abandoned his glass on the coffee table and leaned back in his chair with a slow smile. "Drink it all, and then tell me about the redhead who works at the bar. The tall one."
Feeling like he'd just stepped clear of a minefield, Ace relaxed into the couch cushions and began to extol Trix's many,
charms. But somewhere in between a loving description of the busty redhead's glorious tits and her deliciously spankable ass, he acknowledged that his reprieve was likely to be short-lived.