Authors: Laurelin Paige
‘Laurelin Paige writes an addictive mix of emotion and sexy that draws the reader in and doesn’t let go until long after the last page is read’ K. Bromberg,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Driven series
‘Edgy sex and pulsating mystery make this fast-paced and sensual story impossible to put down’ Jay Crownover,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Marked Men series
‘Each chapter leads you deeper into mystery, twisting what you knew, making you love who you’re meant to hate. A fascinating read!’ Pepper Winters,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Pure Corruption series
is a heart-chilling page-turner from a master storyteller – and the hottest thing I’ve read this year, hands down’ M. Pierce, bestselling author of the Night Owl trilogy
‘Gritty, edgy, dark, and compelling.
pulls no punches and just might leave you reeling’ Megan Hart,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Tear You Apart
‘This spellbinding story will have you glued to the pages from the first page to the last. Paige’s best work yet. Thrilling, captivating, sexy, and shocking. I am in love with this story’ Claire Contreras,
New York Times
bestselling author of
is shocking, stunning, and intense with a heat level that can only be measured on the Kelvin scale’ CD Reiss,
bestselling author of
is a deliciously dark and sinfully sexy story that had me up way past bedtime. Laurelin Paige knows exactly what a woman craves, and I’m craving more Reeve’ Geneva Lee,
New York Times
will make your blood pressure skyrocket with its wicked and deliciously depraved plot. It will leave you on pins and needles, breathless and begging for more. Laurelin Paige has delivered her finest work yet’ Jen McCoy,
The Literary Gossip
‘A beautifully executed maze of suspense, seduction, and ridiculously hot sex’ Alessandra Torres,
New York Times
‘A dazzling mystery to unravel… wicked and yet sensual. Decadent in her ability to weave a captivating story from beginning to end, Laurelin Paige has another hit on her hands’ Kendall Ryan,
New York Times
Laurelin Paige is the
New York Times
bestselling author of the Fixed Trilogy. She loves a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International, although she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio.
You can stay in touch with Laurelin on Facebook/LaurelinPaige and on Twitter: @laurelinpaige. You can also visit her website,
, to sign up for her newsletter.
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Laurelin Paige 2016
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DZ
Table of Contents
who kill spiders
To my family – this one was tough. We made it. I think.
To my editor, Eileen Rothschild – As always, you remain my hero. Please don’t ever leave me!
To the team at St Martin’s Press – you’ve changed while I’ve been working with you, but each and every incarnation is fabulous. Thanks for all you do to make us all look good.
To my agent, Rebecca Friedman – you’re my soul sister. I love you.
To Bethany, Kayti, and Melanie – through spiders, trapped farts, and bears (oh my!), you’re definitely the only reason I lived past October 2015. Thank you for being fellow sNAkes.
To Jenn – yep. Writers are crazy. You’re just as crazy to want to work with us. And, man, am I grateful.
To all of you authors and bloggers who read and blurbed and pimped this series – I’m so honored and humbled to have such incredibly talented, creative people say nice words about my books. You all truly amaze me. Thank you!
To my girls – Fab Four, Domination, Wrahm, Snatches, FYW, Order. You guys get me. Thank God someone does.
To my readers – I never knew what a sadist I was until I read all your e-mails and private messages cursing me about that wicked cliffhanger. Gee, that was fun. Thank you so much for reading and loving Emily and Reeve’s story. You truly make it worth the work.
To my God – always first and last and everything in between.
Amber took her sweet time saying good-bye to Rob that Sunday afternoon after my seventeenth birthday. She’d kissed and cooed over him at the door of his convertible while I stood at the curb, knee bouncing, worried we’d miss our bus if we didn’t run for it soon. Worried that my mother would find out that we spent my birthday shacked up with Amber’s rich “uncle.” Mom’s wrath would have been tolerable, but the fear that she might keep me from spending time with Amber made me fiercely anxious. That weekend was the first time I’d explored my sexuality. The first time I’d felt sensual. The first time I’d experienced real desire. Now my life had possibilities; I didn’t want to go back to before.
“Amber.” I’d meant to nudge her gently, but I couldn’t mask my anxiety. Her name was both a prayer and a curse.
She’d twisted her head sharply in my direction, the arch of her eyebrow letting me know she hadn’t appreciated being rushed. She’d worn that expression only a few seconds before her features had relaxed and her lips slid into a playful grin.
“Emily,” she’d called to me, sugar dripping from her voice. “Don’t you think Rob deserves a decent kiss for all he’s done for us?”
“Of course he does.” I’d matched her sweetness, though I’d been pretty sure that most of what had been “done” had been done for Rob, not that I’d objected. It had been fun and he’d bought us pretty things and given us pretty drugs and that had been well worth the blow jobs and the aching thigh muscles. “Just, the bus…”
She either hadn’t heard me or hadn’t been as concerned about the time because she beckoned me closer with a nod. “Come say good-bye to him, Em. Come kiss him.”
At her request my pulse had begun to race, my cheeks flushed, and heat barreled between my thighs, and not simply because I’d wanted one last kiss. My concern about the bus had faded into the distance, so I’d taken the three steps over to them, then tilted my chin up and met his mouth with mine, letting my tongue dot against the tip of his before sliding it along the curve of his upper lip.
“Jesus, Em. The bus is about to leave. We have to run.” Amber’s inflection had been teasing, proving she’d been aware of my distress all along. Grabbing my hand, she’d tugged me away from our “uncle.” She’d waved to him once more before we broke into a run, making our ride just as the doors had been about to close.
We’d taken a seat in the back, and, once we’d caught our breath, lost it again in a fit of giggles. “He’s great, isn’t he?” she’d asked after we’d settled down, but before I could respond, she’d bounded on. “I knew you’d like him. You didn’t mind when I got bossy back there, did you? When I told you to kiss Rob good-bye?”
“Not at all. I liked kissing him.” It had felt like a lie, or at least, not the whole truth. I had liked everything we’d done that weekend together, the three of us. Every new experience. But half the reason I’d enjoyed that last kiss so much hadn’t been because of what it was – the feel of lips on lips, the twining of the wet, thick muscles of tongues – but because Amber had told me to do it… ordered me out of equal parts playfulness and love.
It wasn’t the first time I had recognized my desire to submit. When we’d met several months before, Amber had uncovered my longing to yield. To please. To surrender.
But this time her command had also awoken my sexual tastes. She had summoned a creature to life inside me – a deeply seated beast with an appetite for carnality and a desperate need to be stroked as she knelt at the foot of the one who would feed her.
It was then I caught the first glimpse of the person I would become, and the role Amber would play in my life as the first master I wanted to please.
My feet moved automatically, pulled by a force that couldn’t be simplified with a label of compassion or curiosity or obligation. I crouched in front of Reeve and took Amber’s limp wrist into my hands. My body was present, going through the motions of a concerned friend, but my head was in a fog. The smell of sex still lingered in my nose, the orgasms Reeve had given me still rang through me, low and wide, like the faintest waves sounding off a tuning fork.
Then there had been Reeve’s declaration. He’d hinted both that he loved me and that he knew who I was, knew that I’d been Amber’s friend. That had sent me into shock long before I’d been confronted with her ghost in the flesh.
She was supposed to be dead.
I was confused. I was relieved. I was more than a little scared.
Around me there was a buzz of voices, discussing Amber, but nothing they said made sense. All I heard was a steady drone and her whimpers softer than when I’d first seen her and barely audible. She didn’t seem to be conscious, whatever pain she carried was so great that it slipped out in her sleep.
Reeve tried to get her eyes to open, slapping gently at her face with the same hand that had caressed me earlier in the evening, had been inside my mouth and cunt. The concern etched on his face and the tight emotion in his tone as he coaxed her were mirrors of the way he’d spoken to me in our most intimate moments.
“Emily. It’s you,” Amber whispered.
My focus snapped to her. I was aware now – of her, of her injured state, of the frenzy occurring on her behalf. Aware that Reeve now knew conclusively that
Amber was also
“Yes, it’s me.” I stroked the length of her arm, forcing my gaze not to zoom in on her black eyes, her bruised nose, the sallow color of her skin. She’d been beaten badly. Her body was stick thin, her wrist fragile under my hands. I wrapped my fingers around it and registered a pulse, stronger than I’d expected from the near skeletal figure before me. This couldn’t be the confident, vibrant woman that I’d known, and yet she couldn’t be anyone else. My shoulders threatened to sag with guilt and grief, and my throat felt coarse like I’d swallowed sand.
But she needed strength, and I was a good actress. So I held my head high and made my voice a balm. “I’m here.”
Her lip was too fat and bloodied to smile, but the corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “It
you.” Her words were labored, her breath short. “Joe said you’d sent him. To save me. I —”
I glanced back at Joe as she broke into a coughing fit that tried to curl her torso in, but she couldn’t manage to lift her head, the exertion too much for her.
“Save your energy. We’re going to get you to a bed, Angel.” Reeve nodded at his men.
Was that what he called her or simply an endearment he was using now? Either way it felt private. Like I’d walked into the middle of another couple’s love scene.
“I need a few things from my office,” Jeb said to one of the security guards. “An IV kit, my bag. There are painkillers in the safe.”
He continued to issue orders, and I stood to get out of the way as Reeve gathered Amber in his arms. I turned to Brent, the ranch manager. “Shouldn’t we call a doctor?” I was sure Jeb was good at what he did, but he was a veterinarian.
Brent shook his head. “Jeb’s got all the training we need and we don’t want to raise any unwanted attention.”
I started to protest, but Amber called out, drawing my attention back to her.
Reeve was standing now, Amber in his arms, headed for the stairs, but he paused and spun so that she could see me easily.
“I’ll be right there, Amber,” I promised. “I’m just going to talk to Joe for one minute while they’re making you comfortable.”
She nodded, her lids closing as though they were too heavy to keep open.
I turned to the man who held her. Who moments ago was
man – now I wasn’t so sure. His expression was hard and unreadable. But when his gaze caught mine, the room tilted. His eyes held a dark brew of emotion, so murky and filled that I couldn’t determine
he was feeling, only that he
feeling. And that he wanted to share it with me. Even though it was obvious now just how much I hadn’t shared with him.
My chest tightened, and I looked away, breaking the intense connection. It was all too much. I pivoted toward Joe, aware of Reeve behind me as he held his position a second longer before taking Amber upstairs.
I forced my full attention on Joe. I’d seen him as I’d come into the room, before I’d noticed the battered girl in Reeve’s arms, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to study him. Now I scanned him for similar injuries, for any sign that her rescue had caused him harm. When I saw nothing, I asked, “Are you okay?”
“Besides being exhausted, yeah. I’m fine.”
I let out a shaky breath of relief. “I told you she was alive.”
Joe chuckled. “You did.”
In the beginning, I did, I’d insisted on it until he’d shown me the autopsy report of a Jane Doe that had matched Amber’s description, a woman who bore the same V tattoo that Amber had on her shoulder. I’d found the same report in an e-mail to Reeve when I’d been snooping on his computer, which had further ended any hope that she was still alive.
“How did this —?” I wasn’t sure how to ask the question. “How is she not dead?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I think we were deliberately thrown off.” His expression told me exactly who he’d thought had done the throwing – Reeve Sallis. Joe had never trusted him, and with good reason. Reeve’s reputation was shady at best. Five years before, his girlfriend, Missy, had mysteriously died while with him on his island in the Pacific. He’d been cleared from any blame in the crime, but my friend Chris Blakely, who had been close to Missy, had painted her relationship with Reeve as volatile. Chris was convinced that Reeve had killed her and had even gone so far as to hint as much on a recent talk show.
I wasn’t sure which side of the fence I sat on. Reeve had assured me he’d had nothing to do with her death, and while I didn’t know if I believed him, I’d decided the answer didn’t matter. Now that Amber had returned, I had less reason to doubt him.
Joe, it seemed, was still skeptical. After months of investigating, he’d only found more incriminating evidence. Evidence that tied Reeve to the Greek mafia and a sex slave ring that Joe had been certain Amber had wandered into.
I thought of her bruises and shuddered. Joe was probably right.
“What happened?” I asked him, not wanting to know but needing to all the same. “Where did you find her?”
the mob boss who I had pinned as a lowlife villain. It was the name I’d expected. Amber was last seen with him. Reeve was also connected to him – I’d seen pictures of the two at various events, as well as a few e-mails to Reeve from him.
“You just swooped in and rescued her from his house in Chicago? Or…” I left the question open-ended, not able to imagine what the scenario had been.
“I got lucky actually.” He shook his head, demonstrating his incredulity. “Really lucky. I’d been tailing Michelis for three days before I saw her. I didn’t even realize who she was at first. But while I was in my car watching, she ran out of his house, upset about something. He followed after her, Emily. He grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back so hard I swore he was going to break her neck. Then he went off on her. Fucking pounded her face in while she struggled and cried. I don’t know how her screams didn’t draw a crowd.”
I felt sick. “Maybe his neighbors are scared shitless of him. They ignore what goes on.” Where I grew up everyone turned a blind eye. No one mentioned the drug dealer that lived next door. No one bothered looking in on me when my mother was passed out drunk in the front yard. No one intervened when Amber and I would arrive home with newly purchased designer clothes and unexplainable cash in our pockets.
“Probably so. He left her like that in his driveway. Whether he was leaving her for dead or planned to come back and get her later, I don’t know. I grabbed her and took off.”
“Why didn’t you go to a hospital? Or the police?” I understood why Reeve’s men would be wary, but Joe had more faith in the legal system.
“She refused to go anywhere but here. She was insistent and scared. She’d been to the doctor before, remember? With other bruises, and somehow she ended up back with her abuser. I didn’t know who to trust. So I brought her here.”
He tilted his head and studied me. “Didn’t figure I’d see you here when I arrived.”
“Yeah, well.” I’d hired Joe to investigate Amber’s disappearance, but I hadn’t always been forthcoming with him about my own snooping. At the moment, I didn’t want to think about the circumstances of my presence at Reeve’s Wyoming ranch let alone talk about it. “How did you know to look for her there? How did you realize she was still alive?”
“I didn’t. She’s not why I was following him.”
I wrinkled my forehead. “Then why…?”
He gave me an incredulous glance, one that said he couldn’t believe I had to ask. But I did have to. I needed him to say it.
And he did. “I was looking for you.”
There was affection in the way he held my gaze, his expression so much easier to read than Reeve’s had been, but equally hard for me to bear, for such different reasons.
I lowered my eyes to the floor. “Thank you, Joe. For finding her. For bringing her here.” I couldn’t manage to thank him for what he’d done for me. He’d gone willingly into danger, after I’d eluded him and been uncooperative. When I’d put myself in the damn situation after his countless warnings. I didn’t deserve his concern. I couldn’t condone it with gratitude.
He took a step toward me. “Emily, there’s something else you should know.” He waited until I looked up before he went on. “The tattoos. I found out what they mean.”
“The V tattoos?” Besides Amber and the Jane Doe from the autopsy, I’d also seen one on an employee of Reeve’s in Los Angeles. “Doesn’t it just stand for Vilanakis? I figured it was some show of mob support. Like a gang tattoo.”
“It does stand for Vilanakis. But the tattoos aren’t inked voluntarily. They’re like a brand. Anyone wearing the mark belongs to Michelis.” In case I didn’t get the picture, he clarified. “As in indentured servant.”
“That’s not even legal.” Which was a ridiculous thing to say since I knew the mob didn’t care much about the law. My throat grew thick. “What does that mean anyway? She got away. She’s safe now. Right?”
“My impression is that Michelis brands people when their debt to him is too great to pay back in a lifetime. Which, if that’s true, if Amber owes him that big, then he’s —” He broke off at the sound of footsteps.
I wanted to know more, but when I turned I found Reeve approaching. I forgot about branding and servitude, and got swept up in the confusing mix of emotions that rose at the sight of him. There was so much unsettled between us – and that was without anyone else involved. Amber and Joe only complicated things that much more.
“She’s asking for you, Emily,” Reeve said, his eyes pinned on Joe. “She’s in the suite next to yours.” It was a dismissal that left little room for refute.
Besides, I really did want to be with Amber, so I nodded and headed upstairs, despite knowing that Joe could very well reveal all my secrets. Maybe it was time for those secrets to come out anyway.
If she really had been asking for me, she wasn’t by the time I arrived upstairs. Now the only thing on her mind was getting something for the pain. Her shirt was off, and there were several bruises down her chest and arms, some yellowed and fading, others were much newer. Several near-black angry splotches lined one side of her torso. Jeb was pressing on them when I walked in, and though his touch seemed tender, the examination had her in tears.
I ran to hold her hand and stroke her hair, but she was in such agony, I wasn’t sure how much my presence helped. Jeb finished tracing the lines of her ribs before looking up at me. “Emily, would you mind going down to the kitchen and making some ice packs? If there’s some frozen peas or something, that would work just as well.”
“Sure. Broken?” I’d had broken ribs before. I knew that pain.
“Just fractured, I think. But her breathing’s not great. I’d like to get her on some oxygen so that she doesn’t develop pneumonia.”
“We have some for emergencies in the main office,” Brent piped in. “I’ll call down and have it brought up. And, Emily, there’s ice compresses in the small freezer in the pantry.”
I bent to kiss Amber’s forehead. “Hang in there. We’ll get you feeling better soon.” She squeezed my hand so I knew she’d heard me, although I’m sure it was hard to believe in her current state of discomfort.
The men Jeb had sent for supplies were coming in as I left the room and by the time I returned with ice packs, Amber had been hooked up to an IV and fluid was dripping down the line into the vein at her wrist. Her eyes were closed. She was either asleep or almost there so I didn’t disturb her. Instead, I handed Jeb the compresses, then sat on the love seat near the bed and watched, helpless.
I was actually grateful for that helplessness. Of the myriad complex emotions that were weighing on me at the moment, helplessness was the easiest to carry. It was the one I knew.
Brent returned with the oxygen tank as well as a heart rate monitor. Reeve came along with him, taking a perch on the opposite arm. Together we watched as Jeb and Brent hooked Amber up to the machines. We didn’t speak or look at each other. Tension buzzed between us like a fly caught in a closed room. I was desperate to know what he was thinking and feeling. Was he as focused on her as he appeared to be? Or was his mind as caught up in us as mine was?
The longer I sat without his acknowledgment, the more my anxiety grew.
It was just after three when Jeb gestured for us to follow him out to the hallway for a powwow.
“Well?” Reeve asked, impatience in his voice.
Although he’d shut the door behind him, Jeb kept his voice low. “She’s bruised up mostly. Her ribs are tender, but they seem to be just fractures. Her wrist is sprained and she has a concussion, all of which can be healed with time.”