James “Dawg” Mackey has lusted after sweet Crista Jansen for years. Just as many as she’s spent running from him—and from that dangerous attraction that shot like a spark through her whole body. But now for Crista, running isn’t an option anymore because Dawg’s got a plan. It’s kind of low-down. And kind of hot.
Blackmail is a dirty word, but Dawg will use it if that’s what it takes to get Crista where he wants her. His hungers are too hard and fierce not to. He doesn’t realize that Crista has a longing too. She’s knows what he’s up to, what he’s capable of. He didn’t get that nickname for nothing. And before the night is through, Crista’s making him work for it.
**This is an unedited excerpt**
It was nightmare.
No, it wasn’t a nightmare because she was pretty damned sure she was awake. And in nightmares, bullets weren’t real. They weren’t real and they weren’t exploding around the warehouse like hellish fireflies destroying everything they lodged inside.
Nightmares came with a certain understanding that it was a dream. Not Real. This was a certain understanding it was definitely real and if something really good didn’t happen really soon then she was going to have holes in her body that were not supposed to be there.
She fought to hold back her screams as bullets whizzed over her head again, popping in the wood crates around her and sending a shower of wood chips and shattered glass from inside around her head.
This was bad. Very bad. She stared around, wide eyed and dazed as she scrambled around more boxes, more crates, fighting for as much protection between her and the bullets as she could find.
Crista Jensen was certain her horoscope hadn’t said anything about bullets today. Something about dark knights and ill-advised trips, but there had been nothing in there about bullets.
She would have remembered.
She would have changed her plans.
Oh boy would she have changed her plans.
Scuttling behind what she hoped was a very thickly packed crate, she covered her head with her arms as glass sprayed around her.
Those weren’t just regular bullets. Those were fast bullets. Automatic? Uzi? Something. The kind that spit fire as they pelleted out dozens of rounds at a time. And she knew because the red flashes of light in the otherwise dark interior of the warehouse were a pretty good clue, she screamed silently to herself.
A terrified squak, a cross between a squeak and a squawk fell from her lips as chips of wood exploded from the sides of the crate she found to hide behind.
They were serious out there. People were killing people and she was caught in the crossfire and wondering how the hell she was going to get out of this one.
She knew this was a bad idea.
She knew. She had felt that sick feeling in her gut the minute she stepped into the cavernous warehouse and realized the lights didn’t work. But had she, dumbass that she was, backed out and left? Oh hell now, she had just pulled her penlight from her back and trudged merrily on her way looking for that stupid box. She told the delivery company to deliver to her home, not here. Yet when she returned home from work what had she found? An official notice that her package had been dropped off at their local distribution warehouse and why, lookie, there had been the magical key to open the damned locker it was in.
Well guess what? There was no locker here, she told herself sarcastically. No locker, but plenty of bullets singing a macabre tune through the darkness.
So now, rather than collecting her belongings she was just trying to stay alive. When did fate decided to bust Crista Jensen’s ass? For God’s sake, hadn’t she had enough bad luck in the past eight years?
This was all Dawg’s fault, she decided. Every bit of it. He lived and he breathed and because of it, fate hated her. Fate was female, right? It was probably jealous. There could be no other explanation.
This was so bad.
“Where did the fucking girl go—?“ A harsh, accented voice called out roughly.
Okay she was the only girl she knew of in this stupid place. She had only heard male orders, commands and screams since hell had erupted around her.
Crista turned, crawling on her hands and bare knees—she should have worn jeans instead of one of her few good skirts—trying her best to get as far away from the mayhem and bloodshed as possible.
She knew not to come in here, she reminded herself. Remember that sick feeling? That panicked feeling? Hadn’t she learned years ago it meant bad things? Get the hell out of Dodge type things?
She had been feeling it more and more lately. And this was just another event in a long string of very odd events. Clothes that would go missing then turn back up in her closet, freshly washed. The feeling of being watched. Odd phone calls in the middle of the night and strangers who thought they knew her.
Hadn’t she told her brother last week that something was wrong? And speaking of screwy brothers, where the hell was hers? Dammit, Alex would have to disappear when she needed him most.
And she hadn’t told him goodbye when she talked to him.
Strange that she should remember that as she wedged herself into a dark, musty corner surrounded by crates and backed by a cement support beam.
She hadn’t told Alex goodbye when she talked to him last week. She had just hung up on him because he had something totally idiotic.
Something along the lines of “Call Dawg.”
Oh yeah, right. She was going to do that.
He should have known better than to make such an insane suggestion. Where the hell had his mind gone in the past eight years? Had he forgotten how hard it had been for her to stay in Somerset that summer? Dawg had chased her with steady determination for months before the rest of her world had collapsed around her. Even though it was more than obvious that he hadn’t remembered that one stolen night she had spent in his bed, he had still chased after her with a determination that reminded her why they called him Dawg.
Because he never let up. He never gave up.
She flinched as a projectile tore through the side of the crate that she had hoped was thick enough to protect her. She stared at the hole it made coming out, mere inches from her upraised knees and gagged.
It was nearly the size of her fist.
She heard the male voice screaming from a distance as another bullet ricocheted against the cement beam, inches above her head.
She went down. All the way down. And fought to get through the small crack between the support beam and the heavy crate, wondering how the hell a bullet could penetrate it when she couldn’t even move it.
Clawing desperately at the side of the crate, she pressed, pushed, wedging herself into the minute amount of space and almost—almost managing to escape.
She screamed, terror racing through her, freezing her blood to ice as hard fingers grabbed her hair and pulled her back, jerking her back by the thick dark strands and sending agonizing pain racing through her neck.
Her hands reach back, her nails clawing at the wrist behind her, fighting, struggling as she was dragged from the only means of escape in sight.
“Stupid whore! Where’s my fucking money? I teach you to betray me, puta!”
She was jerked around, staring back in horror at the dark eyes and pitted face of what she was certain had to be a demon.
Stringy black hair fell over his narrow brow, his flat cheekbones were ruddy with rage, his dark brown eyes lit almost red with fury. And he had a gun.
Crista watched, in slow motion. She had heard that expression, events passing in slow motion and hadn’t believed it until now.
Now she was watching it. Tearless. Breathless. Watching in slow motion as his arm raised. One hand pushed her against the cement support, the other was coming up. Up.
But the shot came too soon.
One minute she was watching that black weapon level up to her, the next a shower of red exploded around her as her hands flew to her face and a scream tore from her as his body jerked forward, then fell.
Right at her feet.
“Goddamn you Crista!”
She recognized that voice.
Jerking her head up from the sight of the bloody mess her assailants face was now, she stared back at a black masked figure, LAW ENFORCEMENT emblazoned across the bullet proof jacket he was jerking from his broad chest.
“Put it on damn you!” His voice was a hard rasp, guttural, animalistic as he jerked her around and strapped her into the vest until the black velco strips were holding it snugly to her chest and back.
“Let’s go!” Hard gloved fingers wrapped around her arm as with a shove, the crate she had been fighting to move was pushed back as though it were no more than a heavy box. “Move it!”
He pushed her through the opening before gripping her arm again and pulling her through the dark.
“What’s going on?” She breathed out roughly. She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t cry. All she could do was follow Dawg.
And she knew it was Dawg. Those brilliant Celadon green eyes, that dark male honeyed voice. No other man sounded like Dawg. No other man moved like him or smelled like him.
And besides, it was just her dumb luck. He was here. She was here. Hell was erupting around her. Fate was laughing her ass off, and it was all Dawg’s fault.
“Shut up!” He snarled, not even bothering to so much as try to explain as he pushed her through the darkness. “Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down and if God is in a good mood today, I might be able to save your ass.”
Save her ass?
“But I was just here—“
“Just fucking save it.” He pushed her against something cement, the dim light that spilled in from overhead windows emphasizing the enraged flames in his eyes. “I just killed a man for you, princess. A man worth a hell of a lot more alive than he was dead. Now shut your goddamned mouth and do exactly what I say. Exactly. Or I’ll slap cuffs on you and haul you in so fast you won’t have time to twitch that pretty ass of yours.”
Before she could process the fact that they were racing from the back of the warehouse, Dawg was lifting her into the backseat of his black four by four double cab pick up, his eyes glowing with rage as his fingers tangled in her hair. He stared down at her remorseless before gripping the bottom of her t-shirt and wiping it roughly over her lower face.
Blood. She shuddered at the thought. Someone else’s blood stained her now. Then, Dawg forced her head back a second before his lips covered hers.
Gunfire receded. Reality dimmed. The world narrowed down to his lips slanted over hers, his tongue pressing between them as hers opened. Electricity sparked, exploded, and sizzled through her head with a dazzling display of color as pleasure tore through her system.
Eight years without him. Without this. Without the hunger that consumed and burned away the ragged wound in her soul that leaving him eight years before, had left inside her.
Her hands curled against the bulletproof vest and a whimper that shocked her vibrated from her throat as he tore his lips from hers as quickly as he had taken them.
She stared up at him, wide-eyed, shocked, as he glared back at her.
“Where did you park?” He snapped out.
Her lips trembled as she fought to drag in enough air to answer him.
“The back lot,” she whispered as he jerked her purse open and before she could stop him, pulled her keys from inside.
“You’re damned lucky your car wasn’t there when this started Crista,” he snarled. “Luckier than you’ll ever know. Now, lay down. Don’t move. Don’t speak. Don’t twitch. So help me God, if you give yourself away in here I’ll toss you into a cell so deep and so dark you won’t know up or down. Do we have that clear?”
She tried to nod, just as she was trying to breath. A second later he was pushing her to the seat, pressing her cheek into the fine black leather with a harsh order to ‘stay’ before the door slammed and he was gone.
And she was alone. She could still hear the gunfire, but it was distant, and easing away. It was replaced with shouted orders, vehicles moving, and strident calls.
Inside the truck she shuddered, drew her knees to her chest and tried to still the shaking in her body.
Shock. She knew she must be having some kind of shock reaction because it was the middle of the summer. She shouldn’t be freezing so hard she was shaking, breathing shouldn’t be hard. And God help her if she puked in Dawg’s new truck. He would probably shoot her himself then.
She forced herself to breath slowly, evenly, to draw in the scent of Dawg that permeated his truck and filled her senses with memories. Memories she had fought to forget for eight long years.
The feel of his thighs between hers, parting them as lowered himself to her. Watching as one large hand gripped the shaft of his cock, nudging it against the hot, wet curls between her thighs.
“Wax your pussy,” he had growled. “So I can see your soft flesh gripping my dick.”
Her womb clenched at the memory, as clear now as it had been the morning after.
And he didn’t even remember it. She still had to fight back the rage and the pain of that one. The bastard. He had seen her two days later and had looked right through her as she stood in her parents convenience store, her heart in her throat, certain that he had come for her.
But he hadn’t. He had smiled and flirted and on his arm hung some stupid twit blonde bimbo that cooed over his muscles as he paid for ice and snacks.
He had made some cheerful comment to Crista about her hair, and she glared at him. He had frowned, tried again, and she had turned her back and left Alex to take care of him. Because she couldn’t look at him, she couldn’t bear remembering and knowing that not so much as a glimmer of that night remained in his memories. Knowing, that if he had her again, they wouldn’t be alone.
And then weeks later, the knowledge that she hadn’t escaped that night without repercussions. She had carried his child.
Her initial reaction had been one of anger, of resentment. He was partying, enjoying his life and his women and the dirty little sex games he and his cousins played and she was pregnant.
But within days that anger had stilled. The knowledge she would always have a part of him had consumed her young mind, her heart. The heart she had given Dawg on a sultry summer night. And that happiness had built, filling her, glowing inside her.
Until three months to the day after he had taken her. The day she had lost the child she had grown to love so deeply. She had left the clinic Alex had taken her to, packed her bags and left for Virginia with friends who had been visiting that week.
And here she was, eight years later, her fingers curled into the leather of his truck seat, shaking, terrified as the sound of gunfire finally eased away and shouted commands filled the night instead.
Suddenly, the implications of her very precarious position slammed inside her head. She was at the scene of an obvious raid of some sort. Wasn’t that what they called it? A raid? A sting? And she had been right smack dab in the middle of it.
Which meant she was about to be right smack dab in the middle of a whole lot of suspicion.
Fubar. That’s what this entire fucking night had turned into. Fucked up beyond all repair, and it was all his own damned fault.
He stared into the shadowed expanse of the warehouse parking lot, his brows lowered, trying to make sense of what he had done and why. The why of it more than anything else.
What had crashed through the hard core of training and beliefs in what he was doing long enough to rush Crista from the warehouse and hide her? What had made him risk his own safety, his own freedom, for a woman.
“I moved her Rodeo,” Natches said, sidling up to Dawg as he stood guarding the warehouse entrance. “She was parked outside the range of the cameras and her head was down as she came through the entrance. With any luck, we can cover her identity.”
Dawg glanced at his cousin and best friend from the corner of his eyes. He was half tempted to blame his cousin for every second of this madness. Following the vague warning he had given, Dawg had moved to find who they assumed was the female seller who had entered the warehouse. She was the only one unaccounted for now.
Because Dawg had moved to intercept her ahead of the rest of the team, and reacted rather than thinking. If he had given himself time to think she would be stretched out on the warehouse floor with the rest of the bastards they had arrested in the raid.
They had the buyers, the sellers, four missing experimental missiles and their guidance chips. It was a damned good haul for the investigation. Except for the fact that the woman who had masterminded the deal hadn’t arrived.
That, or she was hiding in the backseat of Dawg’s pickup truck.
“Remind me why we’re covering her identity,” Dawg said softly, his gaze tracking the rest of the combined ATF and Homeland Security team.
“Because she’s not involved?” Natches hazard a mocking guess.
“She was here,” Dawg pointed out, even as he ignored the hard mental flash of denial that Crista could be involved in this in any way.
“Uh-huh.” Natches nodded. “Of which I warned you. You were the one that jerked her out like a wolf protecting its mate, not me cousin. I just covered your six. That’s my job. Remember?”
Like a wolf protecting its mate. Or a Dawg protecting a bone, he thought sarcastically.
He had taken one look at her and something inside him had exploded in awareness. He knew damned good and well what would happen if he didn’t get her out of there. If she had been caught with the others, with the description of the female suspect they had, she would have never gotten out of the arrest and coming imprisonment. Involved or not.
And why that should matter to him, he couldn’t figure out.
“She’s not involved.” Natches cradled his rifle in his arms like a lover as he stared back at Dawg. “That’s not Crista, Dawg.”
Maybe it wasn’t. But then again, maybe it was, and he just couldn’t see it for his own lust.
Dawg tightened his lips and stared back at the organized chaos inside the now well-lit warehouse. He was a paranoid son of a bitch. He trusted no one but the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and Crista wasn’t included in the Trinity last he checked.
Yet, he was risking his own life to protect her. Not because Natches’ voice had been warning, concerned. But because his own emotions had interfered with the job for the first time in eight years. And as he stood there, watching the arrests, the recovery of the missiles and their chips, and felt the sense of triumph that team radiated, he felt disassociated.
He was impatient. Eager to have it over with, because his mind was brewing with all the possibles filtering through it. It was possible Crista wasn’t involved. And if she wasn’t, then it was possible that for the first time since her return a year ago, he had an edge on her. She couldn’t just turn and run, as she was wont to do whenever he came near.
Oh no. Not anymore.
His eyes narrowed and his lips curled with an anticipatory smile.
He had lived on instinct too damned long to discount it, and instinct was giving her the benefit of a doubt. But he was still a part of the ATF, and she was at the scene of an arms buy. She also fit the brief description of the one female in the group of thieves that had hi-jacked the weapons and attempted to sell them.
He was going to have to keep an eye on her. A very close eye on her.
“Oh hell, I hate that smile,” Natches suddenly groaned beside him. “Dawg, what the hell are you up to?”
Dawg glanced over at him, his brow lifting in mocking innocence. “I’m just considering how best to determine who’s guilty and who’s innocent,” he drawled. “Nothing for you to worry about Natches. Nothing whatsoever.”
It was a lot for him to worry about, and even more for Crista.
For him, because Crista made him break his own rules, and that was something Dawg never did, under any circumstances. And her, because he was going to take payment for those rules out of her sweet little body.
Natches shoulders slumped. “Hell. Why do I have a feeling now that I should have just played the Knight in Shining Armor myself rather than giving you the opportunity to pull your head out of your ass?”
Dawg snorted at that. “Stop worrying. I have it covered.”
“I’m guaranteed to worry at any time that you tell me not to worry. It’s a cosmic rule.”
Dawg lifted his brows and chuckled in amusement. “Trust me.”
Natches stared back at him in worried disbelief.
“Man, don’t go pulling that kamikaze shit on me again, okay? Four years of it in the Marines were enough. You promised to take it easy once we got home. Remember?” Natches reminded him. “Think about your knee man. You’re only one good accident from being a cripple. Let’s not push it. Kay?”
Dawg let his grin widened. “Take it easy? Easy wasn’t what I had in mind, but taking it sure as hell is.”
Natches stared at him suspiciously. “Don’t do something you’re going to regret man. I don’t have time to pull your ass out of any fires.”
Dawg clapped him on the shoulder before moving toward the men being lifted from the cement floor and prepared for a nice little trip to the nearest jail cell. “No worries, Natches.” He grinned over his shoulder. “No worries at all. Catch ya later.”
He had plans to make. Plans that included one sexy little waitress, his bed, and all kinds of wet, hot, nasty sex acts.
The next time she turned her back on him, she would at least remember what it felt like, what it meant to be owned by him. And by God, before it was over, he would own her. Heart and soul. By fair means or by foul. The Dawg wasn’t playing anymore.