A sleek black limo idles in the center of the parking lot, the gleaming black stark against the backdrop of cracked concrete and cigarette-littered gravel. It’s not for me, I tell myself. It can’t be.
It’s probably one of Chastity’s customers.
At eight o’clock in the morning. In the cheapest motel in Tanglewood.
The driver steps out and nods to me in that deferent, discreet way that drivers have. My stomach sinks. He opens the back door and stands beside it, a silent invitation. A tacit command from the man inside.
My feet move me across the pavement, breath trapped. It’s that moment when you’ve slammed your finger in a door, before the pain has registered, when your mind is all too aware of what comes next.
The shadowed interior hides his face, but I know who it is before he speaks.
“Good morning,” comes the low voice of the man who made me come on his desk. The door shuts behind me, enclosing me in the warm darkness.
“What are you doing here?”
A shuffle of papers. The scratch of a pen. As the darkness solidifies, I see him reclined in the back of the limo, focused on a stack of papers in front of him. Working, like I’m a distraction. “I’m your ride.”
He doesn’t even look up. “Excuse me?”
“To Landon Moore’s office. That is where you’re going, I assume.”
My eyes narrow. “How do you know that?”
Finally he looks up, his golden gaze searing me. “Because you’ll do anything to get your house back. It’s the only place you feel safe, isn’t it? The only place you felt loved?”
My stomach clenches. “How did you know where to find me?”
“I don’t think you need me to answer that.”
Because he knows everything that happens in the city. He could have had me followed after I left his office yesterday, but odds are he knew where I was before. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather walk on nails than ride with you.”
I pull the latch to discover that the door is locked. From the inside.
My gaze flies to him. “You’re kidnapping me?”
“Unfortunately,” he says with fake sympathy. “You’ll have to explain to the cops how I abducted you and transported you in comfort to your previously planned destination.”
The car glides forward, as if connected to his very will.
I glare at him, settling into the warm leather. Are these seats heated? Of course they are. I have to admit this is way more comfortable than the city bus, but everything has a cost. And when it comes to Gabriel Miller, the cost is always too high. “Why are you doing this?”
“Does it matter?” he asks, his voice faintly mocking. “As a gentleman your comfort is my highest priority. It’s enough to be of service to you.”
“You’re not a gentleman.”
“Probably right. In that case I’m coming with you to see sweet old Uncle Landon give you the horrible news, to see your face fall as he assures you there’s nothing you can do.”
My throat constricts. “Can’t you find someone else to torture?”
“No one nearly as pretty. Besides, my presence has some advantages.”
“My very own supply of fire and brimstone?”
“People are more inclined to tell the truth when I’m in the room. My reputation for dealing with liars and cheats is somewhat brutal.” He leans forward, his eyes reflecting sunlight. “All of it true, I’m afraid.”
I’m living proof of that, the fallout from my father’s decision to steal. “Be careful or I might think you’re actually being nice to me.”
A short laugh. “Not a chance. It will be my pleasure to see Landon Moore break. And even sweeter to watch you break, too. A show I can’t pass up.”
Skye Warren is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance such as the Chicago Underground series. Her books have been featured in Jezebel, Buzzfeed, USA Today Happily Ever After, Glamour, and Elle Magazine. She makes her home in Texas with her loving family, two sweet dogs, and one evil cat.