Crystal gasps and covers her mouth. “I . . . no. Is it true? Are you sure?”

“The police checked Rebecca’s passport and confirmed that she returned to San Francisco a few months ago, but no one ever saw or heard from her. The assumption is that Ava got to her before anyone else did. Unfortunately, Ava’s retracted her confession. I’m going to do my best to try and close the gap that a lack of evidence creates, and help the police keep her behind bars.”


“So,” she asks, sounding tentative, “there’s no body?”

“No.”

“Then there’s hope she’s alive.”

My throat thickens. “The police don’t think so.”

She studies me a moment. “You don’t, either.”

“Believe me when I say that this is one time I’d like to be wrong.” I don’t pause to let her comment, certain that unwanted sympathy will follow. “So far, the police have kept this quiet and the press hasn’t reported on it. Whatever their motivation for silence, it isn’t likely to last. This will get out, and added to the counterfeit scandal . . . it won’t be pretty. I’m going to drag Riptide along for a bumpy ride.”

“You didn’t do this. Bad people did this.”

“People I motivated to do bad things. I’m at the root of all of this and I take responsibility.”

She looks like she wants to say more, but hesitates. “Does your mother know about Rebecca?”

I shake my head. “Thankfully, neither of my parents know, and I don’t want to put this on them right now. That’s where you come in. I need you to keep it away from them until I get back. If you have problems, I’ll be on speed-dial and I’ll charter a private plane to get back here if I have to.”

She nods and I stare at her, trying to read her. Her lashes lower, shielding her eyes from mine, and I have a powerful sense of her guarding her reaction. Maybe she thinks I’m a prick who sleeps with everyone and deserves what I get. Maybe she sympathizes with me and feels sorry for me. Since those feelings could affect her loyalty, I have no choice but to push her to make her feelings and her position clear.

I open my mouth to say as much when the waiter appears, a tray of food in hand. As he sets our plates in front of us Crystal scoots out of the booth, leaving her coat and purse behind, and darts away and down a hallway.

I curse under my breath. She’d run from the awkwardness of last night; now she’s running from this. I leave tomorrow morning. So if she’s about to jump ship, I have to know now.

Pushing to my feet, I follow the hallway behind the bar, which leads downstairs to a small space with two doors: one for men, and one for women.

I knock on the women’s door. When Crystal opens the door my hands go to her waist, walking her back into the tiny room. She pushes out of my arms and hugs herself while I allow her escape long enough to turn and lock the door.

“I guess you don’t like the door that says ‘Men’?” she challenges, but while her words are confident and cool, the way she hugs herself screams nervousness.

I ignore the flippant remark. “And you seem to cut and run when things get awkward.”

“I didn’t cut and run, Compton. If I had, I wouldn’t have been on a plane the next morning to make a trip that gained Riptide a damn good purchase. And when I left the booth, it wasn’t for the reason you think.”

She presses her hands to her head and drags her fingers through her hair. “I just . . . I saw the pain in your eyes when you were talking about Rebecca. I know you’re hurting, and I don’t know if I made that worse last night or better . . . and I don’t know what to say or do now.”

She saw pain in my eyes? No one sees anything I don’t want them to. But this woman, she sees too much. She makes me do things I don’t do, and desire things I don’t want to.

“I don’t know what you need,” she continues, “but I want to help—”

I advance on her and lift her to the sink, sliding her legs apart and pressing between them. And now it’s my hands going through her hair, tangling in the silky strands. Tilting her head, I force her gaze to mine, bringing her mouth a breath from a kiss I promise myself I won’t claim. “What I need is for you to keep this nightmare away from my parents until I’m back. That’s all.”

Her hand closes around my tie. “I told you I will, and I meant it. Whatever they need, and whatever you need, is my priority.”

What I need is her: to taste her, to feel those lips against mine, and that’s exactly what I do. My mouth closes on hers, my tongue delving deeply, stroking, tasting. Taking. I need. Oh yes, I do, but that need shifts and changes, turns to something darker, and more demanding. Suddenly I’m aroused beyond belief, thick and hard, my c**k straining against my zipper, and the burn to be inside her is almost too intense to bear. It’s consuming. It’s dangerous to my vow to stay away from women who don’t live my lifestyle.

And still I deepen the kiss, my hand traveling up her waist, caressing the curve of her breast. She presses into me, moaning, demanding “more” without words. And all too easily, I could give it to her. I tear my mouth from hers, staring down at her, and my hunger roars to life. I want Crystal, but even more so, I crave her submission and my control.

“Put your hands on the sink behind you,” I order.

Her chin lifts. “I told you—”

“What happened to ‘I’ll do whatever you need’?”

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