She swallows hard. “Yes. I understand. I will.”

I grab her hair, twining my fingers in the long, silky strands, and force her gaze to mine. “Fuck me over and I’ll fuck you ten times harder and faster. And not in the way that feels good.” My warning issued, I release her. Still holding onto her wrist, I enter the hallway, Gia—or whatever her real name is—in tow, and I swear I can almost see Sheridan’s laughing face and hear him calling me a fool all over again. But it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve made up my mind. This woman is coming with me, at least until I decide what to do with her.

TWO

I’M STILL HOLDING Gia’s wrist as I lead her out the back door of Hugo’s house into the dark, muggy Texas night—so unlike the New York winters I’ve become accustomed to now. Stepping onto some kind of concrete patio, I can barely see my own hand in the inky black of the space around us. A few more steps and Gia hits a piece of furniture, and I grab her, pulling her against me to keep her from falling and covering her mouth with my hand. She is tiny, easily injured, as is my sister. It doesn’t make her innocent, but handing her over to Sheridan, if she truly betrayed him, would assure her death. I’m a lot of things, but a murderer, even indirectly, is not one of them.

She grabs my arm as if she’s panicked, her hair catching on my whiskers as I whisper a warning: “One little peep and we could end up dead.” I wait for her to nod and release her, shackling her wrist again to lead her across the yard. It’s so damn dark; I silently curse as I nearly stumble myself. The inky blackness surrounding us might offer a cloak, but it also renders us blind, on top of being unarmed in a rough neighborhood riddled with gangs and now, with Sheridan’s men.

Reaching the chain-link fence, I release Gia and hurdle it with only a quick, short shake of metal. “Come on,” I order when she doesn’t immediately follow, and I watch her shadowy outline as she seems to struggle to lift her skirt and stick a foot in the fence. I grab her free hand, her shoes dangling from the other, balancing her as she crosses over the top. Her sudden intake of breath, followed by a few short pants, tells me she’s hurt and, afraid she’ll fall, I wrap my arm around her and lift her the rest of the way down to the ground. In the process she ends up flat against me, my hand on her mostly bare backside. Grinding my teeth, irritated at the tightening in my groin for too many reasons to count, I intend to set her away from me but she pushes out of my arms before I can, yanking down her skirt.

I give her two beats to pull herself together, but when she starts fiddling with her shoes, I wrap her tiny wrist with my hand again and start running, which means she has to run as well. Blinking rapidly into the darkness, I head down a narrow alley that runs behind a row of small houses, unhappy when our passing sets several dogs barking, but I’ve committed to this direction and we’re charging forward. The path runs out and I stop, Gia running into my back, but I am unfazed. I squat down, and she follows as I look left and right, spotting the flicker of flashlights to the left only.

Leaning in close to Gia, I whisper, “We’re crawling to the right, along the edge of the building.”

She gives me an impressively calm, decisive nod that I manage to see now that my eyes have adjusted. Holding up a hand, I silently warn her to wait, then wave it a moment before I take off in a crawl toward what looks like one of the giant warehouses that are planted smack-dab in the middle of residential territory here.

We travel the length of a steel-sided building and enter the parking lot of another. The instant we’re at the next building, I shift into a squat, leaning against the wall. The streetlight above us is burned out, offering us the shelter of darkness. Gia slides in beside me, and I’m pretty sure her knees are feeling the pain of our hasty escape, but I can’t save her skin and her life. I listen for any activity around us, picking up the sound of muffled voices to both our left and right, and the realization that we are sandwiched in between them is not a good one. The only way out is forward or backward, and I’m not sure either is clear, but then, the gambler in me is genetic.

“We’re going forward,” I instruct Gia softly, “back where we came from, exactly where they won’t expect us to go, and we’re going now.”

I don’t give her time to think, or our enemies time to catch up with us, pulling her to her feet and running across a road. We quickly travel down the side of one warehouse, and then another—both illuminated by streetlights I don’t welcome right now, but fortunately the street is deserted. The voices of Sheridan’s bastard lackeys fade behind us and it gives me hope of escape, driving me to run harder and faster. Minutes become a blur of adrenaline that pumps harder and faster at the sight of the highway and the two blocks of open space we have to cover to get to it, but I don’t miss a step. I grab Gia’s hand and charge forward with determined steps that continue right up to the edge of the highway, and still I don’t stop.

Determined to put distance between us and Sheridan’s men, I tighten my hold on Gia and enter traffic, cars speeding toward us too rapidly for comfort. Our destination is a huge parking area favored by downtown partiers. Once there, I squat, taking Gia with me, and begin checking for unlocked doors. All the while, cars zoom past us on either side of the parking lot and above us on the ramp, and there are people around us—lots of people, considering it’s Friday night and the nearby Sixth Street is the city’s weekend hot spot. But then, getting lost in a crowd is exactly what I’m after.


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