But I’m not here for his looks.

I’m here for his money, and Jayce assured me Jerico has what I need.

“What kind of money are we talking about?” Jerico asks as he critically studies me.

“Twenty-five thousand,” I say nervously.

“That’s a lot of cash to ask of someone,” he says pensively. “But I do owe Jayce a favor, and I happen to be wealthy.”

“So you’ll help me?” I ask, hope welling up in my chest. For the first time in days, I’m not burdened down with overwhelming fear.

“Maybe,” he says as he leans forward in his chair, crossing his forearms on the desk. “Why do you need it?”

“Family emergency,” I say quickly… maybe a little too quickly because it sounds like a lie.

Jerico’s eyebrows draw inward as his gaze pierces straight through me. “You owe someone the money.”

My eyes go wide with surprise, and I totally give myself away by stammering, “How could you possibly know that?”

He smiles at me like the cat that just ate the canary, because I just admitted it to him. I didn’t want him to know because the details aren’t his business. I just need the money and an agreement by a decent guy to let me pay it back when I’m able to sell my house. Jayce assured me Jerico was the man.

“That bruise beside your right eye that goes down into your cheekbone…” Jerico says, nodding at me. “You’re not hiding it very well. When a woman is beaten and needs money, my first guess is someone’s trying to let her know time is up and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t pay. The other choice would have been an abused woman needing money to skip town on whatever douche is beating her, but you carry yourself with a little too much confidence for that.”

Okay, so he has me sort of pegged, but he has no clue how weird this “loan shark” thing really is. He’d never believe the deep hole I’ve dug myself into, nor would he respect the circumstances that brought me here to beg for help.

“What was the original loan amount?” Jerico asks.

“Thirteen thousand dollars,” I tell him.

I was loaned thirteen. Now, I owe twenty-five as payment plus interest. But I don’t begrudge any of this because I needed that money and was willing to do anything to get it. The fact that the sale of my house fell through and I couldn’t get the equity out to pay off the loan didn’t really touch my lender’s heart. He came after me and roughed me up good, imposing a final deadline I had better make or I would be hurt a lot worse.

I had four weeks to come up with the funds or my dead, bullet-riddled body would be put out in the Nevada desert for coyotes to tear apart. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t want to incur his wrath any further. I just want him out of my life.

I’m pinning my hopes on Jerico Jameson to bail me out, hoping he’ll work out some type of reasonable payment plan. I’m assuming he’s an honorable guy as Jayce seemed positive he’d give me the money with easy repayment terms and a much lower interest.

“What was the money for?” Jerico asks again. “And when do you need it by?”

“Like I said… family emergency.” This was very much true, but he didn’t need to know the details.

My six-year-old niece, who I help my mom care for, needed a heart-valve replacement. Since she’s uninsured, the hospital wanted a deposit before they’d do the surgery. I was able to cash out twenty-seven thousand from my 401K plan, but I had to borrow the other thirteen. It came at a huge risk, but I figured I’d just sell my house, take the equity out of it—which wasn’t much but would at least cover the loan payoff—and all would be fine. Except the people who were going to buy it backed out at the last second, so now I was up shit creek without a paddle.

Since Jerico has asked me twice what the money was for, I expect him to push the issue. Instead, he asks, “What are you offering in terms of repayment?”

I blink at him in surprise. He wants me to suggest something? “Um… well, I need twenty-five to pay off the loan within thirty days. I could maybe pay it back over five years with some interest, of course, for your trouble.”

Jerico gives a bark of laughter, but his expression is not amused. “Miss Barnes, I’m not a bank. I don’t make long-term loans. I’ll give you the money… but at a twenty-two percent rate that would be due thirty days after I give you the money.”

“Impossible,” I whisper. My house was not going to sell, so I couldn’t pay it back that fast. The reason the buyers had backed out was that the home inspection revealed there was major termite damage. It was going to cost thousands to fix it. The house was a no-go. “That puts me in the same exact situation I’m in now.”

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