The Token 7: Thorn (A Token Novel) (7 page)

BOOK: The Token 7: Thorn (A Token Novel)
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11

Thorn

 

I never second guess my shit.

Simone changes that. With a look, a movement of her eyes, the windows to her soul say so much. She's wrung my dick out in twenty-four hours flat.

Is this fucking love or some shit? Because I didn't sign up for this.

I throw an ice pack on my throbbing face. That dickhead Chet Sinclair. Why Mick deals with Chet is beyond me. Must be something I'm not seeing.

Holding the icepack on the forward part of my jaw, I rip open my mini-fridge and grab a water.

Need to cool off.

I finally have my hard-on under control, but my face hurts like hell, and I'm so gritty, I feel my anger rub against me like sugar gone bad.

It covers me from head to toe.

I roll the cool surface of the water bottle against my forehead, liking the silence for once. Usually the club has the tunes hard-hitting the entire day as dancers practice mid-day for sets that night.

I walk to my desk and thunk down in the swivel chair, trying to open the books and get my head into bean counting. Mick likes his reports. They keep his finger on the fiscal pulse of the BR.

After a few moments, I find myself staring off in space, thinking about Simone.

I shake my head. I need to avoid her. She's just a fine,
fine
lay.

I remember her face as she looked up at me, imploring me to stop fighting Chet.

I laugh out loud, shaking my head; she thinks to defend me.

I don't know what to do with that.
I can protect her
, probably better than she can herself. Simone's got skills, no doubt, but she's still female. Not much of a match for Sinclair. I hear he likes shit rough. Pretty controlled bastard. I saw in his eyes he wanted to hit her.

A tightness grows in my chest, and I try to put it out. Like a forest fire, no matter how much I nail it with my extinguisher, the flame of tenderness burns brighter.

I've never had anyone stand up for me. Mick has, but this is different.

Simone has everything to lose. She walloped that rich turd Sinclair without a thought to the consequences.

What if he'd gone to town on her? Did she think about it?

I don't think so.

The music blasts on suddenly. I sit up in my chair.

The girls putting on a new music loop?

I frown. A nagging feeling overwhelms me. It's that same instinct that had saved my ass about five hundred times. Screw women's intuition.

Thorn's intuition is solid.

I walk to the door, turn the handle, and exit my office.

At the end of the hall, I see some cat.

He puts me on point immediately. There's no
passing go
with this dude. He's bad news.

It comes off him in waves.

I love that my skin is the darkest shade of brown. Shadows are my friends.

I take in the situation from the dim corners of the dancing arena.

It's only when Simone crouches into a defensive stance that I reveal myself.

 

*

 

No guy alive doesn't take in the physical potential of another male when they enter a space. Some dudes do it quicker than others. Some do it when it's too late. It takes me the length of a heartbeat for an assessment that's as natural as breathing.

There are degrees of readiness. Mine's honed like a weapon, and so is his.

I'm not put off by his nancy suit and suave looks. Handsome doesn’t negate the world of evil.

In Thorn's experience,
pretty
often means cruel.

“We're closed now,” I say. “If you want to see the girls dance, you need to come back tonight at seven.”

His chin kicks up, and I think it makes a damn good bull’s-eye.
Nah... it's a hair low.

He watches me like a bird of prey, and I slow my stride, giving myself room. I chance a glance at Simone and see she's moved farther back.

I take her retreat for the warning it is.

She's afraid of fancy pants.

If she is, then I’ll proceed with caution. Simone knows how to handle herself.

“I come in the capacity as Simone's employer.”

Kiki snorts in disbelief, and my bullshit meter goes through the stratosphere.

“Oh yeah?” I place my hands lightly on my hips. Ready.

He mirrors me.

Not good.

“I'm Simone's boss. She doesn't have time for part-time gigs with smarmy dudes.”

He insults me in French.

I already recognized his accent. I have an ear for it. I learned French first, and it assimilates just like English to my ear. No hiccups.

I feel my lips pull into a smirk. “That might be, ya douche, but if I'm an
imbecile
and an
oaf
, than you're a bigger one for assuming it.”

The girls gasp, and he narrows his eyes at me. I see not much surprises this prick. I get a sweet stab of joy that I have.

Questions sprout in my mind sprouts like out-of-control weeds.
Who is this prick?

And why does he want Simone?

Certainty that mimics pain drives up from my feet and lands with a thud that becomes a light headache.

He's not having Simone. No one is.

It's one of those shitty moments in life when you know you can't rule your bullshit. It rules you.

“I don't recognize which province you hail from?”

He sounds like a Parisian asshole. Same accent as Simone.

“I'm Haitian,” I reply in French, not that I need to explain dick to him.

“Ah,” he says softly, tipping his head back in smug confirmation. “That explains so much.”

I'm ready to put him back in his under-the-rock place he crawled out of when Kiki pipes in.

“Okay, this all sounds pretty and that, but I think you guys are circling another fight, so you”—Kiki points at Frenchie—“leave. Come back when all the other paying guys do.”

“Or not,” I add, still in French.

His eyes cut to me. I keep mine on him like a dog fighting for dominance.

The silence fills with loud music, never once taking the swollen feeling from the air.

Simone's silence has so much weight. I can't look at her right now.

This guy seems to be waiting for my guard to drop.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

He swings his head, and I know he's looking at Simone. “I will talk with you at a later date.”

She doesn't answer.

He turns to me.

“Who are you?” I ask.

He smiles, and it's genuine. It makes my primal alarm system sing like a canary.

“They call me Shepard.”

That's so bizarre it's poetic.

He lifts an eyebrow, and I return the favor. “Thorn.”

Shepard opens his mouth and laughs, throwing back his head. “That's precious, really.”

“Why?” I ask.

His smile vanishes like sunlight behind a storm cloud.

“Why the moniker?” he asks.

I nod.

Fancy mouth to go with his fancy duds.

“I tend my flock.” He speaks to me, but his eyes are all for Simone.

I don't like where this creep is looking. I move in front of her.

He frowns. “You are named for something that has beauty.”

I shake my head.

“Thorn makes things bleed.”

The unspoken warning lies between us.

“Touché,” he answers softly.

With a searching look, he turns on his heel and walks out.

The very room breathes easier without him around.

A new complication.

I turn around to get some damn answers from Simone.

She's gone.

Kiki and I look at each other and she shakes her head.

Simone has disappeared like a ghost.

One thing's for sure: She haunts me.

12

Simone

 

I'm running again. Tears burn my eyes as I hold them open against the wind as I jog.

I reach the door, jam my key into the entrance of my apartment, and swing that first door open. It opens easily and closes softly behind me.

My heels clatter on the six steps to my apartment door.

It's off the hinges, scattered like a wooden sheet of paper on the floor.

I survey the mess while flipping my small baton, letting my keys succumb to gravity as I swing the fob forward of my body.

Without a door, it’s easier to enter without worrying about a bad guy hiding behind it.

I hear a noise and recognize it for what it is: a drawer being tossed.

My heels are left behind.

I pad bare-footed across a minefield of dumped knick knacks, silverware, broken glass, and kitchen debris.

I use stealth that is learned, holding hands out for balance as though walking a tightrope. I'm on the balls of my feet, and they swivel as I assure my footing on the carpeted hallway.

The escape routes are behind me. It fills me with unease. Two exits are always better than one.

I close my eyes. Small noises alert me I have one, maybe two intruders.

I open my eyes and weave down the hall like a dancer entering the stage.

The bathroom door is to my right, and I hear makeup and bottles being shifted. Someone is rummaging through my things.

My heart thumps, blood rushing like a river of noise inside my ears.

I swallow.

I blink slowly again, steeling myself to do what needs to be done.

Straight ahead is the tiny bedroom that houses more than my escape duffel.

Another man is there.

It's not Shep. He never does his own dirty work.

I move to the frame of the bathroom doorway. The space between that door and the bedroom is three meters.

I won't be able to surprise them both, but I can't have bad guy number one behind me. That's just bad form.

I turn in a half circle, and his eyes meet mine in the mirror as I move in behind him.

His eyes widen in the reflection. I strike him at the back of the neck with a precise tap that is as deliberate as it is forceful.

I'm too small to catch him and make it quiet. Besides, his lack of tearing through my crap will alert bad guy number two.

Too late.

I spin out of the bathroom as number one falls in a loud heap of garbage on linoleum.

Bad guy number two is already moving to meet my dance steps.

At this level of thug, gender means nothing. He assesses me as a threat.

As he should.

He strikes me hard. I block with my left arm, but it still glances off my chest. The blow numbs me from forearm to wrist, but I jab my six-inch solid steel baton into his Adam's apple, crushing his esophagus.

He tries to howl, but I've made that impossible. He's a gasping fish without breath.

I move in. I let the keychain fall as I palm the back of his head, and my left knee meets his nose.

It splits like a ripe cantaloupe.

I hesitate as he staggers backward.

Do it, Simone.

I choke back a guttural sob of advance remorse. Women are supposed to give life, not take it.

I suck in a breath.
It's me or them.

I don't have room for a kick. I flat palm the heel of my hand into his wrecked nose, driving the shards of cartilage into his brain.

He spasms.

Gorge rises. I stifle it.

Not done yet.

I hit the throat a second time with my bare hand.

Powerfully.

Finally.

His head rocks back and he falls like a tree that's been cut.

His body slams on the floor with a thud that echoes in the apartment.

I straighten. Closing my eyes and breathing deeply of the death I created, I hear no movement.

Then a sound reaches me from down the hall. Like a cat, I spin toward that small noise, my hackles rising.

Thorn moves into the doorway at the end of the gangplank of a corridor, a gun naked in his hand.

Fuck.

I can't kill him.

I'm too deep in to play the victim. I can't tell him the truth.

Lies won't do.

For the first time in years, I don't know how to handle this mess.

My eyes flick to bad guy number one. He still isn't moving from his spot on the bathroom floor.

The priorities of survival float to the surface like cream in milk.

Emergency duffel.

Ignoring Thorn, I pivot and dive for my closet.

Tearing it open, I grab a compartmentalized black duffle.

It has all that I need. I breathe a sigh of relief that Shepard’s dogs didn't sniff it out. It would cripple me.

I jerk it out of the closet, my eyes sweeping the room. They land on my assailant for a moment then move on.

The cops will want to know how this happened. Thankfully I have no record in either system, and the name on the apartment lease is false.

As is the name I go by now.

Simone Balland is one of several aliases, but it was my favorite. It'll have to go away. Part of it comes from my family.

Not that I think about where I come from. Ever.

Thorn is moving down the hall. “Are you okay?”

I nod.

His hand grips the door jamb of the bathroom.

Feet dangle out into the hall.

He crouches, feeling for a pulse. “He's alive.”

Thorn stands, his frame so large he dwarfs the hall. His dark skin blends into the shadows. His expressive eyes seek my face.

He's a beautiful man.

I want him.

We always want that which we cannot have.

Thorn's gaze shifts to the intruder at my feet.

I scoop up my keys with the baton.

Our eyes notice the blood at the same time.

“I've seen a few dead bodies in my time, Simone,” Thorn says. It strikes me as odd phrasing.

I have too.

“Yes?”

He doesn't respond. We stare at each other over the body.

I need to get out of here and run.

Again.

Thorn holds out his hand, palm up.

I stand there for a full minute, staring at what he offers.

His hand never wavers, trembles, or disappears.

Tears that haven't been shed in a decade scatter my vision of his unspoken offer like fairy dust thrown on water.

His flesh wavers like a mirage.

Maybe it's not real.

I move my hand out, seeking.

I touch his, and he grips my hand, engulfing mine.

He pulls me over the corpse and into his arms.

I shake my head. “I can't.”

Then I bawl. I sob as I never have before. I'm so tired of this life.

Scared.

So filled with empty I'm frozen in place.

“Thorn's here,” he murmurs against my temple, his big body covering mine as I shake with sorrow against him.

He wraps all my hair into his fist and presses my face against his chest so tight I can't move.

I’m not frightened.

I feel safe. Selfish.

Right.

BOOK: The Token 7: Thorn (A Token Novel)
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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