“We can try and avoid her,” Dallas said with a hint of anger this time, “but it won’t do us any good. One of us will be with her when the time is right.” He glanced at Devyn, frowned. “Talking about it didn’t help. We have to change the subject.”
Good. Talking about it wasn’t helping Hector, either. He felt raw, brutalized, unsure. Capable of any dark deed. He desired Noelle, but he also loved Dallas.
Yeah, he thought, he did indeed love the guy. He joked around with some of the other agents, but Dallas was the only one who knew him and accepted him anyway. Can’t hurt him.
“I’ll have to talk to Mia,” Hector croaked out. “Get her to take Noelle off our case.” Noelle would feel rejected, and rightly so. She’d be humiliated. Hate him. Never forgive him for so public a denunciation. Sickness spilled straight into his stomach.
“Thanks, man,” Dallas said in an equally abrasive voice.
“Speaking of the case, is that why you emailed me the morning news?” Devyn asked him, studying the screen of the device he’d just pulled out of his pocket. “Ah. I see.” A rich chuckle. “Motherhood certainly agrees with Miss Tremain, doesn’t it?”
His own device had fallen to the floor when he’d stood, he realized. Hector didn’t dare reach for it, too afraid he’d melt the plastic, so he leaned over and drank in the image he’d left on the screen. Noelle in black and white, a grainy photo but lovely nonetheless. She stood beside Corban Blue, and the bastard had his arm wrapped around her waist.
Both were dressed formally, Noelle in a short, tight dress that managed to glitter, even from the tiny screen, and Corban in a tux. He was tall, leanly muscled, his white hair slicked back from his face. He was almost pretty. Fine, no almost about it. He totally was.
Was that the kind of guy Noelle usually went for? If so, Dallas was more than a better fit for her; he was her type. And Hector couldn’t forget that she’d once called dibs on him. Even though only last night she’d claimed never to have wanted him.
Red returning … sickness spreading … Hector inhaled slowly, held, held, exhaled even more slowly. Can’t have her. He needed to get used to that. He had before, and he would again.
Yet still the questions formed. When had the photo been taken? How long had Noelle known the guy? Did they still talk?
The urge to murder the football star suddenly bombarded him. Hector never should have claimed Noelle as his. His mind and body weren’t going to let him forget as easily as before, were both forging full speed ahead as if her seduction was still an option.
The story speculated about the very things Hector had. Were the two on or off? How far along was her pregnancy? Was she having a boy or a girl? How had Corban reacted to the news? There were a few smaller photos of Corban—each with a different woman. How were those women taking the reports of his impending fatherhood?
Dallas glanced at the monitor resting on the table beside the couch and jerked upright. The bronze of his skin leached of color, every negative emotion he’d projected returning to his gaze in a frenzied flood.
“What?” Hector demanded, already reaching for his gun. He sensed a threat, a big one, and reacted accordingly.
“Noelle,” the agent said, his voice as dead as the grave. “She’s here.”
NOELLE STROLLED INTO DALLAS’S apartment as if she owned it. In a way, she did. The building belonged to her family. Hell, half the buildings in the city belonged to her family. A reason to gloat, sure, but she never cracked a smile.
She was in too volatile a mood.
When Hector hadn’t called or swung by to pick her up, as she thought she remembered him promising to do before he left her place last night, she’d assumed they were supposed to meet at AIR. So, after dressing in a tantalizing ensemble sure to entice him, off she’d gone, arriving bright and early and eager to see the man who’d given her such a glorious orgasm. Only to wait. And wait.
He was a good agent, and an even stronger, more dangerous man, so when he failed to show there, she hadn’t worried for his health. She’d simply assumed his own mind-blowing orgasm had made him lazy and he’d slept in.
Hoping to wake him, she phoned him—no answer. No big deal, though. He’d probably turned off his ringer. She’d driven to his home, a middle-class house in the center of suburban paradise. She’d looked forward to seeing him surrounded by his things, getting a tour of the place. Maybe kissing each other hello. But he hadn’t answered the door.
At that point, she’d begun to fume. Where was he? What was he doing?
His furniture was plain but well cared for, his bedroom neat and tidy. There’d been no personal touches anywhere, and that had surprised her. He really did keep himself distanced from everyone.
Last night he’d made an exception for her, but he must have changed his mind, because clearly he’d ditched her like yesterday’s news. His badge, gone. His pyre, gone. Which meant they were with him. Which meant, he was on the job. Without Noelle.
Mia Snow was a smart woman, had known Bobby’s identity before Hector and Noelle ever made it to the scene. After all, one of the cops would have IDed him before calling AIR. Dealing with the rich was often difficult, and Noelle could help in ways Hector hadn’t realized. Yet he’d rather go it alone than deal with her.
Well, he would soon learn that wasn’t even a possibility.
She’d headed back to AIR to hack into the GPS database and find his location, planning to show up and knock the shit out of him. Along the way, the PI she’d hired to document Cherry Picking Barry’s every move for the rest of his unnatural life had emailed her a string of photos.
Hector had stopped by Barry’s office. Hector had beaten the ever-loving hell out of him.
Hector had somewhat redeemed himself.
However, white knight or not, the beating hadn’t earned him a free pass. He had a lot to answer for. Now, however, she’d use words rather than steel-toed boots.
Dallas, Hector, and hello, gorgeous Devyn Targon were on their feet, watching her with differing amounts of astonishment as she sailed inside the living room. Dallas was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt and jeans, his dark hair in complete disarray around his model-perfect face.
The sight of Devyn, warrior king of the Targons, had her sighing dreamily. As always, he was a walking fantasy. His hair was dark and glossy, while his skin possessed the radiant sheen of crushed diamonds. And his eyes, oh, his eyes were the color of the richest, most decadent brandy.
He wasn’t ignorant of his appeal. He’d be the first to tell you exactly how magnificent he was. Actually, no. Not true. Anything female would be the first to tell you. He’d be a close second.
He wore a pinstriped suit tailored specifically for his spectacular body, not a wrinkle or flaw in sight. His silky brown hair was styled away from his face, ensuring his amber eyes were perfectly framed, and his crushed diamond skin on full display.
At one time, he would have made her mouth water. Same with Dallas. Over the last year, she’d developed an obsession for raw intensity.
Finally, her gaze moved to Hector. His hair looked even longer today, a glossy jet, with the occasional strand of flax. He wore a black T-shirt, black slacks, and both paid his bad-boy muscles the proper homage. His dark brows were drawn low, his golden eyes narrowed. Thick lashes fused together and cast spiky shadows over cheeks flushed with growing … anger? Probably.
Fuck you, Hector. Back to his pissy, distant self, regretting what they’d done. Whatever. He’d made his bed, and now he could lie in it. Alone.
“Morning, boys. I’m happy to see you, too. Oh, goody. Coffee.” She grabbed the cup resting on the table and sipped. Grimaced. “Gross! What is this crap? Because it’s definitely not coffee.”
“We took turns peeing in the cup,” Hector snapped.
Non-deserved hostility was always a party in a box. “Well, your piss needs cream and sugar.” Wishing she had a shot of bleach for her mouth, she placed the cup back on the table.
“Too good to drink what the rest of us drink?” Dallas muttered. A night apart hadn’t improved his mood, either. Wonderful.
“Yes, actually, I am.” Her taste buds were not snotty; they just knew the difference between good and nasty as hell.
Hector shoved his gloved hands in his pockets. “What are you doing here?”
“Now, now. Is that any way to talk to your partner?”
That’s when she knew beyond any doubt that he wanted to do this without her, despite the passion they’d shared. Hurt bloomed. Rather than give in to it, she raised her chin. “Dallas offered to take me to sexual heaven, and since I wasn’t busy, I decided to let him.”
“Sexual … heaven …” Hector nearly popped a vessel in his forehead. His gaze swept over her body. The deep V of her thin white top, with a silver chain hanging seductively between her breasts, the tightness of her black leather pants.
Devyn had already lost interest in her and was playing some kind of game on his phone.
“He tell you boys the same thing and you’re expecting all kinds of pleasure? Should we just get in line?” she asked, then strode to the couch, about to scoot herself between the two very hard D’s. That way, she’d have a straight-shot view of Hector’s face. And his emotions. “Or am I interrupting some kind of male bonding ritual?”
She froze, her pulse points even skittering to a stop. He hadn’t sounded angry or even jealous; he’d sounded frightened. “Uh, okay.” Unsure, she straightened. “Why?”
He ignored the question and pointed to the chair adjacent to him. Miles from the D’s, it seemed. “Sit there.”
After the way he’d treated her, she should flip him off and throw herself across Dallas and Devyn’s laps. Only Hector’s terror stopped her. That terror struck her and spread quickly. With forced casualness, she ambled to the chair he’d “reserved” for her and flopped down.
She peered over at him. He watched her as intensely as when he’d had his face between her legs, trying to judge her reaction. Heat slithered across her skin, and her belly quivered.
Don’t think about that magic tongue of his. She’d only want more from him. Want everything. Like sex in the shower to ease his fears about burning her. Not that she’d been thinking of ways to do that all fucking night.
He’d made his intentions clear. Romantically, they were done. He’d opted to let his fears rule him and that was fine. Whatever, she told herself again. She refused to beg for every scrap of his attention and affection.
“You’re going to learn to include me,” she told him. “This is my job, too, and there’s nothing you can do to get rid of me.” Try again, and I’ll gut you.
A play of emotions in those beautiful golden eyes. An increase of terror, a blend of relief, joy, even shame. “It’d be better if we worked separately.”
No mercy. “That’s not happening,” she said, as soft as she was able. “So let me help you kick things off. Why don’t you tell me what you found at Bobby’s house?”
One of his hands emerged to tug at his shirt collar. “How’d you know I was there?”
“I know all kinds of things.”
Several heartbeats of silence. “Did you know he was married?”
She frowned. “No. He was married?”
“You’re sure?” Bobby had never hinted about being part of a committed relationship. Although his lack of dating might have been hint enough.
Another nod from Hector. He glanced at Dallas before pinning her with a resolved stare. “Wife was there, hiding. I picked up a handheld from his office, talked to her. She seemed genuinely upset by his death, genuinely surprised.”
“Genuine can be faked, I promise you.” Her implication: just like I faked it last night.
He popped his jaw, shrugged as if he didn’t care what she’d done. “Her name is Margarete. She’s Rakan, and I don’t know how they met. I—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Devyn said, suddenly interested in the conversation. “You told us the wife was an otherworlder, not that she was a Rakan.”
“Did you know that slavers everywhere have a jones for the gold, and that’s the only way your Marks could have gotten her? Believe me, I once looked for one myself. For years. Their planet was in ruins, and the remaining people scattered—but not here. Marks bought her, I promise you.”
“Slavers?” Noelle asked. Buying and selling people. She knew it happened, but wow, not so close to home.
Devyn pursed his lips. “Oh, yes. There’s a bona fide sex market, auction houses, you name it, it’s out there. I used to attend those kinds of events and frequent those places myself, so I know what I’m talking about.”
“You really think Bobby bought her?” Hector asked, looking past the living room, into a place Noelle couldn’t see.
“Actually, I’m sure of it,” Devyn said, and he did sound confident. “I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever did the selling wants her back the moment he learns of Marks’s murder, if he didn’t do the murdering himself. That’s what I would have done, if I were rotten to the core, that is, but my evil is only skin-deep. I would have sold her, then killed to get her back. She’d make a damn fine profit, over and over again. You’d be smart to put a detail on her at all times.”