he brake was tight beneath my foot as I pulled my black sedan behind the Lincoln. My partner in the other car was a smart man. But intelligence doesn't always translate fluidly into the real world. And
was smart, too. Something everyone needed to be occasionally reminded of. Rolling my window down, I knocked twice against my car door, to which he responded with the proper one knock back before sliding out of the space and driving off.
I coasted into his spot, putting the window back up so that no passerby could see my face from behind the tinted windows. Moments later, I received his text:
The house has been quiet all weekend. She opened the door only for food deliveries.
But that didn't account for the damn tunnel that extended from the beach right into her basement. Which she now knew about. That tunnel was the single, most important reason we needed Cassandra to join our operation in the first place. Our main means of transport to move the drugs without anyone seeing and for everyone to have an alibiâthe masquerades. And now it was gone. Soon that tunnel would be crawling with uniforms like ants on a cookie. Well, I suppose that just meant I needed to find them another cookie to distract with.
A tremble rolled through my body at the memory of a few nights ago; the way Jess froze when she saw me running, escaping after I attacked her detective boyfriend. How the handle of my gun pressed into my gloved hand, my fingers tickling that trigger. Thank God I had the mask onâplayed along as always at those parties. I hadn't counted on her finding the tunnel so quickly. Which only proved that she was sticking her nose where it didn't belong.
Oh, how I wanted to kill Sam that night. But adding a cop murder on top of everything? It would have resulted in a manhunt and the last thing we needed was more attention brought to us. Maybe now with Zooey as our fall, everyone would back the fuck offâparticularly Jessica.
I shook my head, inwardly chastising her. Tugging my camera from its bag on my passenger seat, I zoomed in on the windows of the house. The curtains were drawn. Squinting, I focused on the guest room just as a breeze from a passing person caught the corner of the curtain.
Leaning back in my driver's seat, I relaxed. If Jessica was anything like her sister, it could be a while before she was ready.
But even as I settled in and reclined my seat, preparing for a long morning, the bright pink door of the house swung open and she exited, keys in hand and dragging a rolling suitcase behind her. My spine straightened, hairs all standing on end. Was she leaving town? If she knew what was good for her, that's exactly what she should be doing.
With a tentative look over each shoulder, she loped down the steps and into her car.
Just where are you off to, Jessica?
There was a new sort of hesitancy in her demeanor. A . . . fear. My smile widened and I felt a raw chuckle rasp at the back of my throat as excitement danced in my veins. Yes, she was definitely afraid.
She pulled out of the driveway and I shifted into gear, following behind at a respectable distance, keeping at least two cars between us. In my business you get damn good at following without being spotted. Two rights. A left. Another right.
A chill rocked my entire body, turning my blood to ice, as we took the last right turn.
I knew where we were going.
I parked my car into a spot in the farthest corner of the parking lot, out of view of the security camera.
The cold metal of my gun scraped against my ankle. Cracking my neck to each side, I took a deep breath, putting the car in park just in time to see Jessica stop at a coffee cart and purchase two cups of coffee, still dragging the suitcase behind her.
Jessica had only parked a few cars away. Flipping my jacket collar up, I also tugged my hat lower onto my eyes, shielding my face. Grabbing the five-by-seven glossy images from my passenger seat, I flipped through them one last time. Running a gloved finger down Cassandra's face in the image, I sighed. It really was such a waste. She was one of our best distributors. Coy, unassuming; no one ever suspected her. But she had to go and ruin it for everyone.
As I flipped through the photos, goose bumps lifted on my arms. I scanned the curve of her hips as she stretched to zip her dress. My groin tightened as I remembered her last scream before my bullet penetrated her heart.
Unzipping, I ripped off one glove and gripped my dick, squeezing hard as I stared at her face. I flipped to the next imageâthe moment she looked out the window and saw someone there on the sidewalk. Her eyes were wide, mouth turned down. Forehead wrinkled.
. I groaned and came hard as I bit the inside of my cheek, coppery blood filling my mouth.
Pain. Sex. Fear.
I dropped my head back against the seat and closed my eyes for a second before wiping my hand and putting my glove back in place.
Get out of that house, Jessica. Get out and let us do our job, find what we need.
And if these images didn't scare her? Well, I could find ways to make the message clearer.
I glanced through the rest of the pictures, making sure all the photos were accounted for. There were three of Cassandra getting dressed and three of Jessica dressing before Friday's party. I slid them evenly into an envelope before I opened my door. I knew the location of every security camera inside and out of this building and up until the eighth row of parking you couldn't be spotted in the far corners. Keeping my hat over my eyes just in case, I made my way across the lot. As I passed the front of Jessica's car I dropped the envelope onto the hood and then walked around to the back of the building.
ess waited patiently in the reception area of Elliot Warner's office. The white marble was smooth beneath her as she scuffed her toe back and forth against the floor. Only two weeks ago, her sister would have been coming into this office to work. She would have arrived on that same elevatorâmaybe even
Elliot, her boyfriendâand she would have gotten off on the tenth floor while he rode all the way up here to his office. The penthouse.
Jess shook her head, gripping the flimsy paper cup tighter in her hand.
she thought, inwardly rolling her eyes. The whole damn building belonged to him, even if he used only the penthouse for his personal operations. The rest of the floors were rented out to various businesses, including the pharmaceutical company where her sister works.
Past tense. Because her sister was dead. Cass was
. It still didn't feel real. Like she expected at any moment, her sister would come barging in off the elevator, pull Jess's shirt closed over the little bit of cleavage showing, and demand that she get home to do that growing load of laundry piling up at her bedroom door.
Jess's hand trembled, causing a bit of coffee to fall and splatter against the white marble floor.
She set the cup down on the receptionist's desk beside the second cup of coffee that she had bought for Elliot. Pinching the bridge of her nose between her burning eyes, she took a deep breath. She needed to pull it together. Though she'd only briefly met Elliot Warner once before during a shared elevator ride, she knew him all too well from the e-mail account she'd found on her sister's iPad. The iPad she found buried beneath the floorboards of her sister's house, along with stacks of money, a fake passport, and a skeleton key that unlocked a secret tunnel in the basement.
Is this what her life was now? Secret tunnels and stacks of cash, mystery men and murder?
Jess sat back down, pulling the iPad out of her purse and flipping it open. She didn't know why the hell it was so calming to read her sister's old e-mails. Maybe it was because she could almost hear the words as though Cass were actually saying them. Maybe she was clinging to any memory her sister had left.
She scrolled through the e-mail history, choosing a random entry. She'd read almost all of them already, but it didn't matter.
My dearest Cassandra,
I have an intensely special evening planned for us. One that will be forever documentedâbut for yours and my eyes only. I believe that you've earned it. You've been working hard and I love that you aim to please me, even if you don't love being my submissive. There's so much for you to figure out about yourself, and I have to admit . . . I enjoy figuring you out as well. You're so different than my other trainees. I know you want to be here. I believe you enjoy your time with me as much I doâand well, to be frank, if the way you came against my tongue last night is any indication, I'd say you're more than sexually fulfilled by our dalliances. And yet, you resist. Constantly. And not in the way that suggests defiance or playful opposition; your resistance runs deeper. It is instinct in the same way an unbroken horse resists its training. You resist submission because it goes against your very nature. And I must stop to consider what this means for you, for your trainingâand for us. Because while some dominants may enjoy the challenge of breaking the wild mare, I much prefer to see her run free.
Her sister actually addressed this man as Master in their relationship. Jess grabbed her coffee back from the receptionist's desk, craning her neck to see down the hallway. What the hell was taking so long? Settling back onto the bench, she clicked Cass's response open.
My Dear Master,
Isn't it possible the wild mare wants to run beside the stallion and not be forced to trot behind him? I fit in this lifestyle. I know I seem to fight it, but at the end of the day, you are the person I wish to talk to. I feel more like myself when I'm bound, gagged, and spanked around you than I do amidst the dozens of friends and colleagues I've had for years.
Don't give up on me yet.
Jess dug inside her purse for the tissues she kept in there. Tears danced at the edges of her eyes. Had he given up on her? Given up on her so much that he felt the need to shoot her and leave her to die in the ocean? Jess wasn't sure; she had spent the last week reading the dark details of their relationship and the man in the e-mails clearly loved her sister. And even if Jess and Elliot “Master” Warner had nothing else in common, the fact that they both loved Cass was enough. It had to be. She had no one else to turn to now that Sam wanted her to give up and get out of townâto leave Portland and forget the fact that her sister's death was so much more than the “robbery gone bad” Portland Police labeled it as. Besides herself, Sam, and Captain Straimer, no one else was in on the underground drug dealings her sister had gotten involved in. Not even Sam's partner, Matt.
Everyone who used to bring Jess comfort now only brought pain. Her parents had passed away years ago. Cass was dead. Her sister's former friend/handyman, Dane, had lied to Jess the very second he met her. And then there was Sam.
Sam was the boy Jess had grown up with. Her first kiss, her first cigarette, her first everythingâand she couldn't even trust
anymore. And if she was being honest with herself, she never could. He'd been lying to her since they were fifteen. Ever since the night her parents died and he covered up the fact that his mother had been at the wheel of the car that struck them.
Jess winced as the memory of Sam in his hospital bed, vulnerable and bloody, rushed into her thoughts. Yes, she was mad at him. No, she didn't trust him anymore. But that didn't mean she wanted him in pain or suffering. Someone had attacked him, hurt him, as a way to get to her. And now, she had nowhere else to turn. No one else to believe in . . . except for Elliot. Wetness stained her cheeks and she wiped it away, looking at her reflection in the mirrored elevator doors. She had to pull it together. If there was ever a man who wouldn't respond to tears, it would be Elliot. She was sure of that much.
Jess slipped the iPad back into her purse as she gently wiped below her eyes and pinched her cheeks to get some of her color back. “Don't be desperate,” she said to her reflection. “And don't show weakness.”
“Mr. Warner's ready now,” the receptionist said from behind her.
Jess grabbed her things and followed the receptionist with her smooth, bouncing ponytail down a long hall. After a moment, Jess entered through heavy double doors into an oversize office that screamed of an inferiority complex. She scanned the long floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over historical Portland's wharfs and docks.
“Ms. Walters.” Elliot Warner's voice was quiet, with the low trill of a wolf's warning growl. Her attention drew to where he sat behind his desk and she felt her chest hitch with a sharp inhalation. His lips quirked and damn if he didn't sense her nervous energy. Of course he did. A wolf always knew which prey was the easiest capture. His eyes never once left hers. “I've been expecting you.” He gripped a set of car keys in his hand before setting them down onto the desk next to him.
“It's Jess. Not Ms. Walters.” Nerves bounced around in her empty stomach. “Going somewhere?” Jess asked, nodding to his keys.
“Just getting back, actually.” He cleared his throat. “You discovered me last week, in the elevators. And yet it took you days to actually confront me.” He grabbed the cup of coffee Jess had brought for him from the coffee cart outside, which, according to his e-mail exchanges with her sister, was the best in all of Portland.
“Was there a question in there somewhere?” Jess took a sip from her cup. Though it had been a while since she arrived and bought the coffees, it was still hot, and she savored the smooth, creamy liquid as it slid down her throat.
“Let me rephrase,” he said. “Why did it take you so long to confront me when you've clearly known who I was for several days now?”
“Well, I was busy and had business to attend to this weekend. This felt like it could wait. I usually have good instincts about these things,” Jess answered.
Elliot took a long swig of his own coffee, but unlike when Sam drank coffee, Elliot's sip was refined. Smooth. Whereas Sam would slug it back in a quick gulp no matter how piping hot the liquid inside was. Tightness closed in around Jess's throat and she turned her attention outside of Elliot's window. She could not think of Sam right now. He didn't deserve her. And while she wasn't so foolish to believe that once they broke up she had some sort of magical immunity to their chemistry, it didn't change the facts. You only get one second chance, and Sam blew his. Matt could take care of him now that he had been released from the hospital on Monday.
“I wouldn't say that,” Elliot responded.
“About your instincts?” he continued, pressing his palms to the lacquered desk and pushing to his feet. The exquisite three-piece navy pinstripe suit fit his body perfectly, as though it was sewn for his exact specifications. And hell, maybe it was. This guy was freaking loaded. “In fact . . . I'd say other than coming to see me today, your âinstincts' have damn well nearly killed you and your boyfriend.”
Jess's cheeks heated. “He's not my boyfriend.”
“Your . . . dom, perhaps?” There was a teasing tone to his voice that Jess hated.
Sam's voice from last week echoed in her memory.
“I'm going to tear that dress from your body, press your breasts against that wall, and show you what you've been missing all these years by paddling that tight ass of yours.”
Lifting her chin in a false show of confidence, Jess shook her head. “No. He's my nothing. My colleague, perhaps, and that's all.”
“Well, that's an interesting development.”
A sense of unease slid through Jess's body, landing at her fingers as they trembled around the coffee cup, despite the heat that burned through. “How do you know so much about me?”
“I make it my business to know.” He swaggered around to the front of his desk, then tugged at the knees of his million-dollar pants. “So, Sam's out of the picture . . . pardon the photography pun.”
“Yes. He's out.” With a deep breath, Jess gave herself the mental pep talk she needed. She could do this. She had to do this. Not only for Cass now, but also for her own life and for Sam's. Even if they wouldn't be together, she didn't want him dead. “You know more than you let on. It's painfully obvious. I think you probably know more than the entire Portland Police force ever could. And I need your help.” Jess resisted the urge to look at her feet. “
needs your help.”
“I don't see how a dead woman would need my help.” But even as he said the harsh words, pain sliced through his cold features.
Jess slammed her coffee down on the corner of his desk. A bit of the steaming liquid sloshed out the top and splattered onto her knuckles. She gritted her teeth and refused to show any acknowledgment of the pain. But despite her efforts, Elliot's eyes flicked down, noting the moment as a smile turned his lips.
“Don't be an ass,” Jess said. “Don't pretend as though my sister meant nothing to you. She may have been your sub, but she loved you. And I think you loved her.”
“That's a lot of thinking you've been doing.” Elliot's eyes locked into hers and they stood there, momentarily frozen in time. He walked over to a small bar area on the opposite side of the room. “Can I offer you a little Irish in your coffee?” He wiggled a bottle of whiskey, the caramel-colored liquid sloshing around inside the bottle.
Jess shook her head as he poured himself two fingers worth of whiskey. “Yes,” Elliot said after a long sip. “I loved Cassandra. And if you're not careful, you're going to end up with the same fate as her.”
“Except that her colleague, Zooey, is being pinned for both Cass's and Dr. Brown's murder. And I don't think she killed them. At least not Cassâas for Dr. Brown . . . well, I don't know.”
Wrinkles framed his eyes as they narrowed for just a fraction of a second. “Zooey? That mousy girl that Cass worked with?” He shook his head. “Wow. They're really straining to close this, aren't they?”
“Yes, they are. And it certainly doesn't help Zooey's case that she confessed to Dr. Brown's accidental manslaughter and then disappeared. But even still, I think she's being set up.” Jess brushed a hand against Elliot's arm to emphasize the point, and immediately regretted doing so. He looked down at where her finger had dared to touch his suit as though he may need to burn the thing now. She pulled her hand back to her side. “Come on. We both know she didn't do this.”
Elliot sighed, dragging his hand down over weary features, his entire body seeming to relax with the breath. “I don't know anything. Which is exactly how you should answer should anyone ask you, Jessica.”
” she corrected once more. The last man to call her by her full name was Sam. In the bedroom. She'd rather not have that memory hanging over her.
One side of Elliot's mouth lifted into an arrogant half smile. “I prefer Jessica.”
“And yet, that's not really your call.”
His grin twitched higher. “And yet, I don't care.”
A breeze gusted through his open window and Jess shivered, resisting the urge to hug her arms to her chest. Just who did he think he was? And what the hell was it about men who were assholes being so damn magnetic? Jess hated herself for liking that quality in Sam, and she hated Cass for having liked it in this guy. Because at the end of the day, all it did was make them shitheads. Sexy shitheads, but still . . .