He shrugged as if he didn’t care what she did. “Stay behind, then.”
Bastard, calling her bluff like that. She was on her feet in an instant, and he nudged her out the living room with his shoulder. His skin was warm, almost too warm, the heat seeping past his clothes and into her skin, but oh, it was delicious.
“Your technique for guiding a lady out of a room needs work,” she told him.
“Just move your ass.” “Hector,” Devyn called just before they reached the door.
Hector paused, stiffer than before, definitely angrier. “What?”
“Remember what you were told today, and don’t do anything stupid. I’d hate to resort to Plan B.”
NOELLE QUESTIONED HECTOR ABOUT “Plan B” the entire first half of the drive to the restaurant. He did his best to ignore her and succeeded, his thoughts in turmoil. No way in hell could he tell her the Targon’s plan involved a disappearing act on her part.
Devyn would do it, too. Off her, without any hesitation. Anything to protect Dallas. Worse, the Targon king knew how to hide bodies. So if Devyn wanted Noelle’s death to be a mystery, it would be a mystery. No one would be able to find her or prove Devyn had been involved.
Just the thought made Hector want to vomit.
He should be trying to distance himself from Noelle, but fuck it. She should have worn a bra. Instead, the thin swath of white she called a blouse did nothing to hide the hard outline of her nipples. Nipples that had been pointing at him, practically begging for his attention the entire time they’d been with Dallas.
Attention Hector could have given her without (much) fear. If Dallas’s vision was true, and they always were, Hector could have had her without hurting or killing her. How, he wasn’t sure.
And okay, now that a little time had passed, he realized Dallas hadn’t provided a timeline for when the sex would supposedly happen. A year from now? Two? Nor had a location been mentioned. His home? Hers? Or some shitty motel while they were on stakeout? Had Hector been drugged out, to keep himself mellow? Or had he and Noelle just fallen asleep on a bed together and never actually made love? Dallas claimed he’d seen them wake up naked together, but he hadn’t expounded on the sex itself.
Whatever. Details didn’t matter. He couldn’t have her, and that was that. Because what if sleeping with Noelle brought about Dallas’s ruin? Hector would hate himself. But then again, what if sleeping with Noelle saved Dallas?
Shit. No wonder Dallas was such a mess. A man could drive himself crazy trying to figure this kind of thing out, second-guessing himself, all while craving the woman in question.
Yeah, Hector wanted to have her so damn badly he ached. She was too damn gorgeous for her own good. Those leather pants hugged her ballerina legs. Legs he’d had wrapped around his shoulders. And the necklace hanging between her cleavage kept jiggling, drawing his gaze.
Sitting in Dallas’s living room, as casually as if they were picking their fantasy football team, while Noelle was within striking distance of Devyn, kissing distance of Dallas, and caressing distance of Hector, had been tough. Now as they meandered down a crowded roadway, her sweet, sexy perfume enveloping him, his mouth watered. His hands itched, burned.
No, even without Dallas’s thing, Hector couldn’t have her. He just couldn’t.
“Do you want to talk about last night?” he asked her, just to break the silence. “Ignoring her” wasn’t working for him.
“No.” She peered out the passenger-side window, at building after building built to look as if they were composed of chrome and glass. Some were towering, some wide, but all were lit up like Christmas trees in the gloomy haze of the day.
“What about this morning,” he persisted, “and why I didn’t include you in the investigation?”
“I’m a smart girl. I’ve already figured it out. You’re too dangerous, blah blah blah even though you didn’t hurt me.”
So dismissive of something that tormented him daily. “I could have.”
“One wrong move, that’s all it takes. I won’t risk you,” he gritted.
“So you’ve said, over and over. But let me tell you something.” Swinging around, she glared at him. Those eyes were stormy, liquid silver with flashes of lightning. “I’ve been a nuisance to my family my entire life. The next time you want to do something for my own good, grow a pair and tell me. They at least have never left me in the dark.”
He deserved that. And he hated, utterly hated, that he’d treated her the same way he’d seen Jaxon treat her—or worse. As if she were a pest, to be easily swatted away. And suddenly her comment about her dad loving the “idea of” her made sense.
Jaxon wished she were different. Her dad had probably wished she were different, too.
Shame on them, because she was perfect just the way she was. “You have my word.”
“Good.” She relaxed, but only slightly. “Then what’s Plan B?”
“Argh! Well, then, tell me more about your arms. Have you seen a doctor, been examined?” She threw the words at him, each one a weapon.
He replied anyway, happy to assuage her curiosity in some way. “No. Who could I trust? I’d be put down, and you know it.” How weird was this? He’d gone from never talking about what he could do, to telling a vengeful woman whatever she wanted to know.
“Everything. Yes. And even if I were normal, you wouldn’t want to date a guy like me, I promise you.”
“Thank you so much for making my decision for me. Appreciate it. Really.”
He cleared his throat, disregarded her sarcasm. “I’m going to tell you stuff about me, okay, and I want you to listen. Don’t ask questions and don’t look at me.” He didn’t wait for a response. Didn’t wait for her to turn away. He had to do this, had to tell her and finally, officially quash the blaze between them.
“I was born in Whore’s Corner, and my parents were, obviously, poor. So, to make money, to support their drug habits, they entered me and my older brother into human cockfights. Before each fight, all the kids were kept in cages for about a week. We were treated like animals. They decided what we ate and when, and it wasn’t much and never nourishing. We had to use the bathroom in the cages, on ourselves. That way, we’d be feral when we got out.”
He lowered his gaze to the seat. Her fingers were digging into the vinyl.
“We never had to fight each other,” he said. “My brother and me, I mean. That was the only thing we refused to do. But then one day, during a fight, my brother was killed. By a kid just like us, sold, used. A girl. They dragged Dean’s lifeless body to my cage. Told me that I’d be fighting the girl who’d killed him the very next day. I aa… went crazy. I killed her during the fight, and then I killed my parents. I burned the ring and everyone in it down. There was nothing but ash and the echo of screams when I was done.”
His voice cracked there at the end.
And still he wasn’t done. “I ran off. Hid. Was found by the authorities. I gave them a new name, Hector Dean, because Dean was my brother’s name. I also gave them a fake past, and they put me in the foster care system. For several years, I was so numb inside that my arms never acted up. But then, one day, someone pushed me too far, and I accidentally killed him. I burned the body to ash, just like I’d done to everyone in the ring, so no one would ever know.”
He drew in a shuddering breath, gathering more courage. “I tried to be careful after that, tried to keep my emotions under control from then on. And I did, until I met a girl. Kira. I was just a teenager and I wanted her, and she wanted me, so we started hanging out. Things were great at first, I was still careful, but I got a little too excited one night, when we were about to go all the way, and I killed her, too. But I told you that already.”
“And there you have it. My entire life. Now do you understand a little about why I’ve pushed you away? Not just because of my arms, but because of me.”
“Y—yes.” Emotion clogged her voice, but he wasn’t sure which emotion. “I would have wanted you, anyway,” she whispered.
Would have, she’d said, and that hurt. Meant she didn’t anymore. Do not cave. More at stake than her life now. “Now answer a question for me. Who were you talking to on the phone earlier, the one you missed and called sweetie?”
He shouldn’t have been relieved—but he was. Stupid on his part. But then, he doubted he’d ever get over this woman. And hell, he’d just ensured she never got under him ever again, either.
TEN MINUTES LATER, NOELLE hadn’t stopped shaking. She’d been shaking since Hector had begun his confession. Oh, the pain he had endured.
She ached for the traumatized child he’d been, ached for the strong yet broken man he’d become. But. Yeah, but. He still wasn’t willing to try with her, didn’t want her enough. And that’s what everything boiled down to.
The car eased to the side of the road, then stopped altogether and parked at the curb in front of Alfonzo’s, a members-only snobfest.
“I can do this, because I can do anything,” she whispered, a pep talk for herself as she emerged into cool, damp wind and dodged a honking car that swerved to miss her. Emotionally raw inside, she flipped off the driver.
Can’t think about Hector right now. Have to focus. For Bobby.
Hector moved in front of her to block the wind. He held the door open for her, rather than allowing the doorman to do his job. What the hell? Push her away, and then act the gentleman?
Inside she saw dark velvet draping the walls and flecks of ebony and ivory sparkling in the floor tiles. Small crystal chandeliers hung over every table, the lights dim, a soft tawny, all to promote intimacy.
Multiple perfumes fragranced the air, a clash of designers. Champagne, chocolate—made from real, rare cocoa beans rather than fake—and caviar also joined the scented fray. Noelle’s mouth watered, but she soldiered on without stealing a morsel or six from any of the trays carried past her. Starving! she thought.
For which she blamed Hector. She hadn’t eaten breakfast; she’d been too busy hunting for him, fuming.
As they maneuvered around the tables, conversations ceased, then murmurs of a different nature arose. Noelle wasn’t sure if the patrons were now discussing her scandalous pregnancy, or if they were focusing on the huge biker dude in front of her, a man clearly packing an arsenal of weapons on his battlefield body. Maybe both.
She wasn’t bothered by the attention they garnered. To her, every person in the room was a version of her mother. Disapproving, superior, and entitled. So, basically, they could all suck it. Her life was her life, and she did not have to explain her choices.
Her gaze landed on a very handsome man at a table all by his lonesome. He was somewhat familiar to her. Must have seen him at a party or something. He had olive-toned skin and dark hair. Pain filled his azure gaze, but he smiled a sinful smile when he realized she was staring at him.
Hector stopped abruptly, and Noelle rammed into him. His gloved arm stretched backward. For one second, only one, he settled a hand on her hip to steady her. Of course, he then realized he’d broken one of his cardinal rules—contact with another living being—and severed the connection.
Didn’t matter. The touch, quick as it’d been, electrified her, the heat of him bypassing her clothing, her skin, just as it had every time before, settling deep in her bones. She shivered at the deliciousness of it. What really got her, though, was the fact that she’d never seen him touch anyone else this casually, even by mistake.
Can’t soften. Have to focus, she reminded herself.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Brenda Marks snapped. “Move along.”
Ah, there she was. Noelle stepped around her maybe-partner.
“I’m Agent Dean,” Hector said. “And we need to talk to you about your son.”
Brenda’s back, already ramrod straight, stiffened beneath the thin cut of her I’m-almost-a-businesswoman dress. “He’s dead. I know.”
“How do you know?” Hector asked. “Did you kill him?”
A flash of too-white teeth. “How dare you accuse me of something like that. I’m in mourning.”
“I know because someone from AIR called me,” she said with a false sniff, “and told me he’d been shot, then asked me a few questions.”
Hardly. No one from AIR would have called her without permission from Hector. “What was his name? The one who called you?”
There was no Agent Smith. Either she was lying, or … what? The bad guy had called her and pretended to be an agent?
Hector crossed his arms over his chest. “What did he ask you?”
“Do we have to do this here and now?” Brenda demanded, glancing around the restaurant with embarrassment.
“Well, then, if we’re playing Q and A, here’s one for you. How did you get in here?” Brenda didn’t give either of them a chance to reply. “Waiter. Waiter! Escort these … people outside.”
The waiter merely stood there, shifting from one foot to the other, gulping nervously.
“I’m a member,” Noelle said, at last gaining Brenda’s full attention. They’d never before interacted, never been introduced, but the old bitch had to know who she was. Everyone did. “Getting in wasn’t a problem.” Her gaze scanned the other three women seated at the table.