“I’ll tell them I talked to you. Whether you’re truly okay is up for debate.”
We’ve just said our good-byes when my cell phone buzzes with a message from Mark. Dinner tonight. Eight o’clock at my parents’ house.
I stare at the message. He acted like I didn’t belong at the hospital this morning, and he’s given me no update on his mother. Now he’s demanded, not asked, that I be at dinner. There are so many things I want to reply with—but I want to see Dana. That’s all that matters. I type Okay.
Okay? he replies.
Grimacing, I don’t even try to hold my fingers in check. Sorry, sir. Yes, sir, Mr. Compton, sir.
He doesn’t reply. Perhaps what I see as being a smartass again, he perceives as a real concession. My mind goes back to the restaurant bathroom he’s so focused on and I squeeze my eyes shut, replaying his hands on my waist as he sets me on the counter and spreads my legs before ripping off my panties, teasing me with his fingers but not his tongue. And oh, how I wanted his tongue. He’d made me choose between his fingers, his tongue, or his cock. When I’d chosen his tongue, he’d ordered me to tell him to “lick me.” Then it had been, “Lick me, please.” Then, “Please lick my pussy, Mr. Compton.” I’d tried to resist and failed. I’d said the words, and he rewarded me with an orgasm, leaving me with a satisfied smile on his face and my panties in his pocket.
Something my father often says comes back to me: People who are being manipulated rarely know it until it’s too late. What if Mark’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine is all a plan to get me where he wants me, tied to a bedpost? I glance down at my reply.
Sorry, sir. Yes, sir, Mr. Compton, sir.
What if that kind of submissive answer is exactly what he wants from me? And not just in the office.
He was right. We need boundaries—and they won’t all be ones that he likes.
Crystal . . .
The day zooms by with one challenge after another, and before I can blink, I’m in an Escalade with Jacob, to drive me to dinner. “Is all well in your neck of the woods?” he asks.
“As well as can be expected,” I say, shrugging out of my coat and setting my tote bag on the floor.
“Did you arrange security through your father?” he asks, moving the gearstick into drive.
“No. I realized that someday, one of you is going to have to protect Mark from me. Since he intentionally provokes me, it seems fair that he should pay for what’s essentially his own protection, not mine.”
Jacob chuckles. “Yes, I suppose he should.” He pulls out onto the street.
“Any news on Ava?” I ask as we reach the stoplight.
“Nothing,” he says. “But since Blake’s working with the police in California, we’ll know if anything turns up on that end.”
“Do you think she’s dead?”
“I really don’t know.”
The frustration in his tone tells me he’s giving me the truth. We fall into silence for the rest of the drive, and I think of the way Mark immediately whisked me to an airport after finding out about Ava’s escape. I also remember the taste of fear, regret, and guilt in his kiss. And I think of how those things must be magnified now that he’s here, with people around him who could be hurt if Ava shows up. It has to be destroying him—yet he couldn’t stay away. Will he ever be able to stop looking over his shoulder if Ava isn’t found?
As Jacob parks in the private garage of the seventeen-story Fifth Avenue building where the Comptons reside, I’ve begun to think about Jacob’s certainty that Mark is after Ava himself. And with my new perspective, I can’t help but wonder if, given the same risks and lack of answers Mark is faced with, my sanity wouldn’t require I look for Ava myself, as well.
Jacob motions to my door. “One of my men is approaching on your right, Crystal. You’re in such deep thought I didn’t want him to scare you.”
“Oh,” I say, not realizing how checked out I’ve been. “Yes. Thanks.”
Jacob exits his side of the vehicle and my door is opened by a tall man with long blond hair tied at his nape. Despite his dark suit, he looks more like a rock star than a lethal weapon. He offers me his hand, his sleeve rising up enough to offer me a glimpse of the tattoo on his wrist. “Asher is my name, Ms. Smith. I’m with Walker Security.”
Jacob rounds the hood to stand beside us, and Asher turns his attention to him. “I’ve let the Comptons know you’ve arrived, and the service hallway and elevator have been cleared. No one should know she’s here.”
“Good,” Jacob says, on edge and ready for any problem.
“Why are we taking the service elevator?” I ask. “The building’s security is excellent; no one gets in without invitation.”
“We have reason to believe that someone from the staff gave the press tips the last time Mark was here,” Jacob explains.
“Did the press come here today, too?” I ask.
“Yes,” Asher confirms. “Early this morning.”
My brow furrows. “Then how could the leak come from here? Mark hadn’t shown up yet.”
“But we had talked to the apartment and arranged security,” Asher replies. “And the word from some of the staff is that there have been issues for other tenants in the building.”
“Asher here has a way of making people drop their guard,” Jacob says. “He’s going to find out who it is.”