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Seized: A Rough Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Chapter One

Delaney

Outlaws…

Vile scum. Monsters. Villains.

And the man chasing after me had a gun.

Run. Run!

My inner voice pushed me on, my bare feet pounding against the hard terrain, shells and rocks biting into my tender skin. The wind whipped strings of sand into my eyes, almost blinding me as I raced into the dense forest of trees. I had to get away. Nothing was going to stop me.

I swerved through the swaying limbs, one catching me in the face, yet I didn’t feel the pain. My senses were dulled, my mind only able to concentrate on the task I was determined to complete.

“Come here, little girl. The consequences will be much worse if you don’t.”

I heard his voice in the distance, the husky tone nearly swallowing me in velvet blankets, longing to consume every inch of my body. The man had no idea what I was made of. I refused to stop, picking up the pace, but I knew I had to hide.

My heart hammered against my chest, finally forcing me to slide against one of the trees in an effort to catch my breath. I had one shot at this, only one. There was no real chance I’d make it.

But I had to try.

If not, they were going to kill me. Three strangers with filthy minds and ugly desires. I would not be their pawn. I would not succumb. Ever. I glared at the rough waves, fighting the hair as it swept across my face. The boat rocked against the dock, water pitching against the sides.

Only a few hundred yards to go. I knew I could do this.

After rubbing sand from my eyes, I took off running.

Within seconds, I was given a hard yank, the force tossing me to the ground. The brutal thud took my breath, stars floating in front of my eyes. “No!” Struggling, I twisted out of his grasp, able to free one of my legs. Giving it everything I had, I smashed my foot against his chest, gaining enough momentum to scramble forward.

The weapon he always carried tumbled into the air, dropping several feet away. My mind reeled at the possibilities. You can do this. You can.

“No. No!” I managed to get to my feet, stumbling forward as I tried to run away from him, trying my best to grab ahold of the gun.

“Come here. Now!”

His gruff voice indicated he was right behind me.

“Fuck!” he roared.

Maybe I still had a chance to get away. My breath ragged, I almost stumbled to the sand then caught myself, racing forward once again.

When I was pitched to the ground a second time, his massive body fell on top of me, pinning me to the sand, my fingers only inches away from the cold, hard steel. I stared in horror, struggling to breathe. Please, God. Please…

“You’re not getting away. Not now. Not ever.”

“Get off me, you bastard.” I could feel the heat erupting from his rugged frame, the electricity soaring through us the same as always. Every inch of my body trembled, my pussy aching as he brushed his fingers down my arm, his hot breath cascading over my naked skin. The man was just as gorgeous as he was terrifying.

A rugged beast.

A powerful adversary.

Dangerous…

How could I be attracted to such a monster?

Guilt rushed into me, my pulse racing, and all I could do was stare at the gun. My last hope was fading.

I gasped for air as he fisted my hair, yanking my head several inches off the terrain.

“You disobeyed me again,” he stated in a husky tone, his lips dangerously close to my cheek.

“And I’ll do it again. And again, you fuck!”

“Then I’m going to punish you over and over again until you learn.” He dragged me onto all fours, but not before grinding his hips back and forth, the action sending another shower of intense current dancing into every inch of my body.

Hissing, I slid my hands back and forth, trying to find anything else I could use as a weapon, even as my nipples began to ache, my pussy soaking my panties. I was sick to my stomach from the intensity of the rocketing sensations, my mind becoming foggy. This shouldn’t be happening.

“I’ve tried to be lenient with you, but you only seem to respond to harsh discipline,” he growled as he fumbled with the button and zipper on my shorts.

I reached back with one hand then the other in a ridiculous effort to get him to stop. My legs trembled as he managed to drag my shorts and panties over my hips, pushing the material to my knees. “I hate you.”

“Yeah? Well, get used to it.”

As he brought his hand down in rapid succession, moving from one side to the other, the sound of his palm slapping against my skin was powerful.

And horrifying.

And infuriating.

And… electrifying.

He made certain I wasn’t going anywhere as the brutal spanking continued, his hold on my hair firm. Stars floated in front of my eyes as pain shifted down my legs.

“Stop. Just stop!” I yelled.

“You deserve to be punished, Delaney, for running and for risking your life.”

“Asshole. You’re nothing but a monster.”

“Call me anything you want, sunshine, but you know what? I think you like this. In fact, I can tell how much it excites you.”

He refused to stop, peppering my bottom with hard smacks. The pain was blinding as well as embarrassing, my entire body clenching from horrible fear.

“Fuck you,” I hissed, still clawing at the sand, panting so hard my chest ached.

“Maybe I should pull off my belt. Is that what you crave, sweet sunshine? A man who knows how hard to discipline you?”

My God, the man was out of his mind. “No. No!”

“Are you wet for me, just like you’ve been before? Are you hungry to have my cock filling that tight little hole?”

My mind wanted to scream no, but my body had betrayed me more than once. Tears threatened to fall even as I did everything to push them away. He was never going to see me cry. “Never.”

He gave me several additional smacks, his fingers catching my pussy lips, further tingling every part of me.

“Fuck. Oh…” I couldn’t keep the moan from slipping past my lips, exhaustion driving me to the point of giving up. I tried to keep my eyes on the boat, the hard sound of the hull thumping against the dock almost giving me a smile. I would find a way to leave the island. I would get to safety.

And I would see them taken to prison.

“Why don’t I find out?” he growled.

When he rolled his hand between my legs, fingering my mound, I was shocked my whimpers of agony turned into moans of pleasure. He slid his fingers deep inside, flexing them open, pumping several times.

“Mmm… Just as I thought,” he whispered.

No. No fucking way I wanted this.

Gasping, I closed my eyes, the raw pleasure as he rolled his thumb over my clit sending a shower of goosebumps across every inch of naked skin.

“You’re wet and hot so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Fuck you.” His deep voice blanketed me, the sound dripping with lust. He delivered four additional strikes, two smacking my pussy.

I bit back a scream, smashing my fist into the sand. I’d spent my entire life being a good girl, playing by the rules. Where the hell had it gotten me? There was a moment where everything seemed to stand still.

Until I felt the tip of his cock slipping past my swollen folds, his cockhead breaching my tight channel. I bristled, closing my eyes as the sand pinged against my face. I’d never felt so filthy in my life.

He thrust the entire length of his shaft inside, his guttural sounds floating over me.

As my muscles clamped around the thick invasion, accepting as if I belonged to him, I closed my eyes, struggling to find a place of peace.

“So tight. So wet,” he half whispered, grinding his hips against me.

No. I couldn’t be.

But I was.

I couldn’t want him.

But I hungered for his cock, his mouth and tongue. I longed to have him filling every hole, taking me to new heights of pleasure.

I was disgusted with myself, furious that the woman I’d been could ever accept such brutality.

“I could do this all day long, sweet sunshine.” He powered into me, the force almost knocking me into the sand.

There was nothing as horrible as… swallowing back a whimper, I was shocked I’d arched my back, even opening my legs wider. My God, I was offering myself to the vicious criminal, pretending I wanted this. Everything was a blur as he fucked me long and hard, his guttural sounds mixing with my ragged breathing.

“Do you want to come for me?” he huffed. “I think you do.”

No way. No… way. But I couldn’t hold back, my pussy clenching then releasing several times. Every muscle in my body tingled, every cell on fire as a climax threatened to give me away. I bit back a scream as my body began to shake and the second an orgasm exploded within me, I made a promise to myself.

He wasn’t going to break me.

Not now.

Not ever.

“So wet. So fucking wet,” he murmured, gasping for breath as he thrust harder and faster. The bastard was ready to come, spewing his cum inside of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

My body reacted, clamping down on his massive cock as he exploded inside. All I wanted to do was cry.

He planted his hands on either side of me, his body folding over mine. “You hunger more than I do.”

I hated the man and his words. I loathed the fact that he’d managed to unlock some hidden desires, stripping away my inhibitions.

Making me into his toy.

He rolled off, raking his nails down my arm, his breathing heavy. “You’re not going to try that again or your punishment will be much worse.”

I threw a look over my shoulder, struggling to breathe. He thought he had the upper hand. The bastard really believed that he could get the better of me. Fuck that.

I had a surprise for him.

Moving quickly, I crawled forward, grabbing the gun and planting it in both hands, able to get to my feet before he moved.

He laughed. The asshole actually laughed as he rose to his feet, shaking his head. Even in the cloudy conditions, I could see his eyes twinkling. “We’ve been through this before. You’re a sweet girl.”

“Sweet?” I asked as I pointed the barrel toward his chest. “I don’t think you want to find out. Stop. Don’t come any closer.”

A look of amusement registered on his face, his eyes darting to the gun. “We need to get back to the house, sunshine. Give me the gun and I won’t be forced to use my belt.”

“My fucking name is Delaney. How many times do I have to tell you that, asshole?”

He took a long stride closer, lifting a single eyebrow as he grinned. “Delaney, please give me the gun.”

The bastard was acting like this was some kind of game. “I said stop. I will shoot you.”

Snorting, he did stop then brushed both hands through his long hair as he gazed down the length of me, finally settling on the weapon. “No, I don’t think you will. You’re not that kind of woman. In fact, you’re far too good. Innocent.”

My God, he said the words as if being a decent person was a weakness.

Damn him. Even at this moment he wore the same sexy expression that threatened to derail what I needed to do. What I was about to do. No, the only thing I could do in order to stay alive. “You have no idea what kind of girl I am. I suggest you think twice about underestimating me.”

He rubbed his jaw, his intense eyes boring into mine. “I think I’m going to take that chance. Besides, I believe the safety is still on.”

The second he took two steps closer, I had a split second to make a decision. Holding my breath, I counted to three. One.

Two.

Bam!

Chapter Two

Sawyer

Two days earlier

They say revenge is sweet, especially when served up cold, yet what I planned would create a firestorm.

As well as streams of blood.

Run. Get the fuck away from here.

The voice inside my head didn’t need to spur me on. I could swear I heard the sound of vicious dogs barking as they raced through the forest, hungry to pin me against a tree. I envisioned the eager warden’s face when he shoved the barrel of a gun under my chin.

I took a deep breath before ripping my way through the dense underbrush, slashing through the vines with the crude weapon I’d forged over time. I couldn’t help but snicker over the images. There were no dogs used to attack anyone attempting to escape. Just miles of dense forest surrounding several unairconditioned buildings.

Bullshit.

Lies.

Betrayal.

I couldn’t get the three words out of my mind as I hunkered down, the hot sun oppressive as hell even through the canopy of trees. I was covered in sweat, my orange jumpsuit soaked, but nothing was going to stop me from obtaining my goal. I’d hungered for this moment, had planned it for months, even dreamt about breaking free from the prison walls and harsh treatment. Hell, I’d been forced to surrender my entire fortune, leaving me penniless and without the ability to find a life even when my penance had been completed.

At least I had good friends, ones I could count on from my past. Not the motherfucker who’d derailed my life.

I’d trusted my damn partner, a man I’d respected and considered a friend, only to be tossed aside like garbage. My life had been ruined all because of false accusations and lies. My blood boiled at the thought, my entire body on fire. The rage had remained burning deep within for arduous months, fueled by the knowledge that I had truth on my side.

First, the fucker was going to be ruined.

After that, I’d have some fun with determining the rest of his life.

And his torment. Maybe eighteen months’ worth.

After all, I was a very bad man, one with no conscience.

Or so I’d been told more than once, starting when I was very young. Why not live up to my reputation finally?

Another round of rage swelled within me, the very reason I’d made such a risky decision.

I waited in the bank of trees, cognizant that at any time my escape could be discovered. If everything didn’t work out perfectly, I would spend the rest of my life behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit.

After wiping sweat from my brow, I leaned against one of massive oaks, visions of the entire ordeal flashing in front of my mind as if it had occurred yesterday instead of eighteen months before. Every single day I’d been incarcerated had been pure torture, the building rage the reason I’d stayed alive.

I heard the sound of an engine and shifted into a denser part of the forest, still able to catch a glimpse of the gravel road. Fuck. This had to work. I had to be able to trust someone in my life. I knew my buddy would do everything possible to repay a debt he thought he owed.

As a nondescript white van pulled up, slowing to barely five miles per hour, I waited until I caught a glimpse of the driver before easing out of my hiding place.

Jax Finley had come through, a man I’d known for years. Along with Rafael, we’d been known as the bad boys of the streets, a trio of young men not to be fucked with. However, he’d been the brutal aspect of a long-standing friendship, his penchant for violence even snagging him a stint in prison years before. While he’d reinvented himself, earning a damn good living as a bounty hunter, from what I’d learned, he’d continued to use his skills with weapons as well as his hulking size to his advantage when capturing runaway assholes.

He lowered the driver’s window, lifting his sunglasses as he grinned at me. “Can’t say the orange jumpsuit is your best look, but you’ve beefed up a hell of a lot. Jesus Christ. What the hell they been feeding you in prison?”

I gave him the finger before scanning the road. “Don’t give me any shit, buddy. You look rode hard and put away wet.” With his short-cropped hair and bulging muscles, I had no doubt he put the fear of God into the people he captured.

“Get in. We have a long drive, especially since we’re staying off the main roads.”

Nodding, I crept around the van, yanking open the door. “Glad you came through.”

“Well, I owe you more than just one favor, but are you sure about this?” Jax huffed as he pressed down on the accelerator. He’d remained a friend after all the years, including risking not only his career but his freedom to help me escape. That was his price to pay for me saving his life. While I loathed calling in others to help me out of the predicament, there was no other choice.

Not if I wanted to find the evidence in order to clear my name.

Deception.

My entire world had crumbled in the matter of a few hours, my private life turned upside down by lies and deceit. And there was a single man to blame.

Carter Bradley was going to have his day of reckoning, but it wouldn’t involve police or the court system. I would be his judge, jury, and executioner. Hell, I’d started the damn company with the man over a dozen years before.

He had no idea what fate had in store for him.

My mouth watered at the thought.

“I know what I’m doing,” I said under my breath, antsy to get the hell out of Georgia. If my calculations were correct, I had maybe three hours tops before my disappearance would be detected. If I was wrong, then all hell would break loose before we were halfway to our destination.

Jax twisted his hand around the steering wheel, shaking his head. “I’ll say this to you right up front. You better be right about this, Sawyer. I refuse to spend the rest of my life in prison for helping you escape. I know you were railroaded, but you better have a damn good plan.”

“This plan is all I’ve been thinking about. I’ll find what I’m looking for.”

“You really think Carter Bradley was behind the whole thing? He was a victim too. Didn’t you lose several large contracts after the news hit the streets?”

“Not my company any longer so what the fuck do I care?” I shot a look in Jax’s direction as I settled into the seat. Before my arrest, the firm had been prepared to enter into two major contracts, one including becoming a yacht builder. That would have brought us an entirely new set of clients, those in the top echelon of society. “While I’m certain Carter was smart enough to steal money from the company, he used the opportunity to get what he always wanted. Me out of the picture.” The business was cutthroat as well as highly lucrative.

I’d been the brute, the one Carter had made fun of more than once.

However, I’d learned to walk the walk and talk the talk, something that pissed Carter off, but after years of hard work, we’d both enjoyed living the good life. Fast cars. Fancy restaurants. The finest accommodations. That’s what money and power had provided. For years, we’d been the only firm to use. From politicians to movie stars, everyone wanted a Bradley boat. Hell, I’d even been approached alone by a rather unscrupulous Saudi prince, offering the kind of job the majority of people would jump at.

Not me. I’d remained honorable, enjoying the spoils of our hard work.

Those days were over. Now I was nothing but a vigilante.

“Don’t know why you went into business with that snake in the first place. You’re damn talented.”

As if talent mattered. It was all about who you knew. “Because he had the connections that I hadn’t been able to garner,” I answered, the question one I’d thought about for years. Carter had come from an entirely different world than either Jax or I had, his family considered one of the most powerful and influential in the city of Miami. Hell, probably the entire East Coast.

I’d merely worked at a marina in Charleston in my youth, initially taking care of several pristine boats for wealthy clients, something Carter liked to remind me of during our brutal discussions. However, I’d honed my skills, able to repair the engines as well as anything else on the various boats if necessary. But I’d wanted more, my talent for design creating a buzz in the boating world. I’d been an idiot for attempting to partner with a shark.

I also hadn’t grown up with a real family, let alone a silver spoon in my mouth.

One thing was certain. Carter Bradley believed his shit didn’t stink, his wealth and power allowing him a pass when it came to respect as well as legal activities. Because of his family’s connections, it had only taken a single phone call and I’d been taken into custody.

The jury trial had taken two days. Two fucking days.

“I’m asking you one more time. Are you sure you want to do this?” Jax asked, his tone laced with concern.

Bradley Enterprises had been my baby from day one, my love of boating and the water fueling a passion for boat building. The water had been the only place I’d felt peace, hours spent drawing while I sat. Carter had convinced me to move into more lucrative markets, including powerboats, but in his mind, fifty-million-dollar yachts had the vision of the future. That had required a shift in our business model, something I’d fought initially.

Even whispering the name of the corporation dragged bile from my throat. Sadly, given he’d put up more than half the money, his name was slapped onto the corporate records. Within eight years, our profits had soared, our stocks going public and skyrocketing.

So had our arguments.

Four years later and we hadn’t been able to stand each other.

There were various reasons for our fallout. I hissed just thinking about them.

“What other choice do I have, Jax?” I asked between clenched teeth. “The fucker is going to pay. I’m through with being a nice guy. Time to play hardball.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the nasty expression on Jax’s face as he turned his head in my direction. “You were never a nice guy, Sawyer, but all I’m saying is that you never had a killing instinct.”

“Does that mean you do?”

He shook his head. “Bounty hunting allowed me to perfect my skills, Jax. Maybe you should have called me earlier. I could have handled him. That’s what family is for.”

Family.

We’d been nothing more than a ragtag group of friends, pretending our life wasn’t so damn bad.

“Let’s just get the fuck out of here,” I snarled, my nerves on edge. I didn’t want to fuck up his life like I had mine.

We remained quiet for several minutes, the dust from the road sending a haze over the top of the van. If only I could go back in time. Hell, if only I’d shared what I knew with the board of directors and not just Carter. He’d laughed at what I’d discovered on the books, pretending as if I hadn’t known what I was talking about. I should have seen the signs, the betrayal coming. Instead, I’d trusted our partnership.

Never again.

I couldn’t wait to confront him. What I did afterwards would be… soul healing.

“I did some checking on your boy,” he finally said.

“And what did you find?”

“Funny how he’s moved into the world of selling yachts.”

A laugh bubbled to the surface. “As if I couldn’t guess.”

“That may be the case, Sawyer, but his business tactics are considered even more ruthless, walking a fine line with criminal activity. The man is still worth millions even after the losses.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” I could only imagine what had transpired since my arrest. However, Carter held several secrets, including dark proclivities that I doubted he wanted out in the open.

“That means he’s dangerous. Don’t be stupid enough to underestimate a man like Bradley.”

“I’m not the same man you knew years ago, Jax. There are things I did with regard to Bradley Enterprises that I’m not proud of, putting me into the same category as the bastard. One thing I do know. The bastard isn’t going to beat me.”

“You want the business after all this time?”

That had been a question I’d wrangled with. “I’m not entirely certain. What I did know is that the corporation would no longer remain in his name.”

Jax gave me another glance before nodding. “There’s some water and drinks in the cooler. A change of clothes in the back. I figured you’d want to get out of that shit. If I never wear the color orange again in my life, it’ll be too soon.”

“I appreciate your help, Jax. I really do,” I said quietly, loathing the fact my life had turned into this level of utter shit.

“Yeah, I know you do,” he said before raising the window. “You’re really going to confront Carter by yourself?”

I reached back, yanking a bottle of water from the ice, rolling it across my forehead before cracking it open. “I’m going to have a little fun first. Trust me, I am more than capable of doing so. Unless you’re willing to participate. Could be just like old times.”

There was another moment of tension then he snorted. “Yeah, what the hell? I ain’t chasing a fuckin’ asshole right now. Money is in the bank. The bills are paid. Why not take a tropical adventure for a change? Besides, you’re not the bastard you think you are. You’re gonna need muscle anyways.”

I’d always been able to count on Jax from the time we’d developed an unlikely friendship. I’d been the kid nobody gave a shit about, including the welfare system. He’d taken me under his wing, teaching me the ways of the street.

Yet he had no idea that the Sawyer he’d known had vanished.

After a few seconds, I crawled into the back of the van, finding the bag of clothes Jax had brought. While I had beefed up almost thirty pounds, packing on more muscle than I’d ever had before, the clothes fit well enough to pass if necessary. However, if we were stopped, things might get dicey. Still, there was nothing like getting out of the shit attire that every prisoner was required to wear.

After changing, I eased against the side of the van, my body remaining tense, my nerves on edge. Breaking out of prison wasn’t in my best interests. Neither was the plan that had been set in motion. But if I was right, I’d find the evidence I needed.

If I was wrong… I was prepared to face the consequences, including death. After all, I had nothing to live for any longer. No life. No family. No money. All stolen.

After a few minutes, I leaned my head against the cold steel panel, praying I could finally close my eyes. The shit that I’d endured over the last year and a half had been a whirlwind of garbage, my record permanently stained even if I could find evidence Carter was behind my arrest. There had to be something. While Carter was ingenious on certain levels, he also enjoyed boasting about his wins, a habit I considered a true weakness. He’d keep whatever lies he’d created as a trophy.

At least that’s what I was counting on.

While I wasn’t a praying man, my past jading every thought regarding religion, family, or even friends, I attempted to summon the karma gods. I just wanted my fucking life back and I would do anything it took to make that happen, including murder.

“Get some rest. We have to be on our game when we arrive at the destination you mentioned. Rafael had better come through. He didn’t seem like the same dude that I knew when we talked about this damn scheme. Kinda didn’t like his attitude. Pompous. Greedy.”

“As if you can talk,” I teased. While the two had always sparred, I knew I could trust both men with my life.

And my freedom.

He lifted his sunglasses before staring at me in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, well, we can all change. He gave me an address at the marina. You know the Coast Guard will be put on notice at some point. The state police won’t take any chances given your history. I sure as shit hope you’re not taking us to Cuba.”

“You just leave that final destination to me. The less you know the better if we’re caught.”

Jax growled, the deep baritone filling the space. “If we are then I’ll kick your ass straight to hell. You won’t have to worry about prison. I have a life to get back to. All I’m saying is that Rafael better have a fast boat.”

“Rafael has the connections to make this happen,” I countered. “He’ll come through.”

“Yeah? What is he now, some bigtime drug dealer?”

“Not quite,” I said, laughing. While Rafael Valencia had once been the third in our group, the darkness that dwelled within him pushing him toward a life of crime, he’d suddenly joined the military. Now he was considered a weapon’s expert, sought after by both criminals and those needing extreme protection. That’s about all I knew, his missions considered confidential. We’d remained close. I’d even hired him on a couple of occasions in order to maintain order back in the glorious days of wining and dining clients. His skills were topnotch. And he had a penchant for blood, a worthwhile trait. “Trust me, Jax. He knows what he’s doing.”

“You keep saying that, bud, and maybe I’ll eventually believe it. I will say, good to see your ugly mug again.” Jax laughed then turned on the radio, shifting to whatever country music station he could find, something else Georgia was known for.

“Wish I could say the same thing about you.” At least I could still manage to laugh.

I half snickered at the thought of seeing Carter’s face again, especially since one of the last times he’d confronted me had been with such rage in his voice.

And contempt.

I closed my eyes, the humidity as well as the close confines suffocating. Just the thought of Bradley Enterprises left a bad taste in my mouth. I’d made a promise to Carter on the day of my arrest and it was one I intended on keeping. At least I could go to sleep thinking about what I was going to do to him.

Laughing, I moved into my office, almost immediately hearing the sound of heavy footsteps thumping on the corridor floor. The moment I arched my back, attempting to find out why the commotion, my gut kicked in.

The stern look on Carter’s face and the fact not one but six federal officers trailed behind him as they headed in the direction of the executive offices was a dead giveaway.

“What the hell is going on?” I muttered as the group moved into the hallway. I heard the various gasps from other employees, the same ones who’d heard our vicious arguments during the last few weeks. “Carter. What is going on?”

“As if you don’t know. Did you really think you could get away with it, Sawyer? Did you really think I was that much of a damn fool?” Carter asked, not bothering to keep the interaction in private.

“I have no clue what the fuck you’re talking about, but I suggest we handle this behind closed doors.”

Carter sneered, his gaze sweeping the corridor. “Why bother? I need every person in our company to know that you’re nothing but a criminal.”

My blood began to boil. I’d suspected Carter was planning a hostile takeover, even hiring someone to tinker with our books, but this was completely unexpected. “You asshole. What the hell did you do?”

His eyes were twinkling as he approached. “I think you need to ask yourself that question. I thought we were partners, preparing to take this company to an even higher identity. You didn’t hide your tracks well enough, Sawyer. That makes you the fool. Now, that’s going to cost you. Your freedom.”

I crowded his space, keeping a smile plastered on my face. “You’re behind this. You’re right about one thing, Carter. I was a fool, but only in believing I could trust you. The truth will be revealed.”

Carter turned his head toward the officers. “Gentlemen, you have a warrant that you need to carry out. I suggest you get to it.”

“Carter. I will find a way to destroy you. Trust me. There isn’t a rock you can hide under.”

The hard jolt was enough to drag me out of a fitful nap. Another damn dream. The majority of people would call my visions a nightmare. I called them a reminder of what I needed to do. My entire body ached, the anger I’d felt during the ugly visions remaining.

When I peered over the seats, I was surprised that the dusk was settling in. “Shit. How long have I been out?”

“A few hours, buddy. I even stopped for gas. Thought you were dead or something,” Jax said, grinning as he glared into the rearview mirror. “It’ll be nightfall before we get there. We’re right on time, as long as there haven’t been any roadblocks set up yet.”

“Does that mean my escape made the news?” I’d fought my way onto the work detail program, working on one of the local farms from sunup to sundown.

“Heard it on the police scanner about two hours ago.”

“Fuck. We need to get off the road.” I leaned over the seat, studying the two-lane road. While there was limited traffic, I wouldn’t put it past the Georgia authorities to contact Florida law enforcement for help. My guess was that Carter would suspect I was coming after him. Or maybe he’d just laugh at the thought.

“Relax. You forget what I do for a damn living. I know all the secondary roads like the back of my hand. Just stay where you are and have a little faith.”

“Faith is something that’s in limited supply right now.”

Jax twisted his head in my direction. “I get it. After all this time, I still don’t get what the hell happened. Didn’t hear from you for years then suddenly you called in the middle of the freaking night asking for bailout money.”

Snorting, I reached for the water. “It’s called greed, Jax. Pure and simple. I refused to accept the buyout offer the fucker had proposed more than once so Carter found another way to get rid of me.”

“If that’s the case, then he was working with someone, including within the court system. Too easy to make mistakes.”

“I have no doubt he was,” I mused. “He enjoyed making certain I knew just how powerful and well-connected his family was. Now, he and everyone he cares about are going to pay the price.”

“While revenge is sweet, Sawyer, just be careful what you wish for. Trust me, I know regret more than most.”

“You want to tell me about it?” Jax had a hard edge to his actions and his words, even more so than when we’d shared a shitty apartment in Charleston, all three trying to make ends meet while dreaming up a better life. Still, I remembered the days fondly, even the fact we’d shared a woman more than once during that time.

We’d pretended we’d found that family every time, only to be kicked in the gut more than once. Women couldn’t handle three brutes for long.

Women. I eased back onto the floor, thinking about my early days while creating the company. I’d worked long hours in my desire to succeed, foregoing a personal relationship. Casual dates had been required, including attending various swanky functions. I’d performed as required, even obtaining a reputation as being one of the most eligible bachelors in Miami.

However, there had been one woman, a beautiful light who’d drawn me into what had likely been just another web of deceit. I’d been a fool about that as well. That kind of shit would never happen again.

As I rubbed my jaw, I laughed. Besides, there wasn’t a woman who’d come within ten feet of me at this point. I could only imagine the lies Carter had spewed. That pissed me off almost as much. While both Carter and I had been rather ruthless in our endeavors, even some business associates afraid of retaliation, we’d been honest.

Or so I’d thought.

“You don’t need to hear any shit about my life, buddy,” Jax murmured. “We all have crosses to bear. Just know there can be consequences for your actions. I hope it’s worth it.”

He didn’t need to tell me anymore. We’d all done things in our lives to make ends meet. It had been a wonder both Rafael and I hadn’t landed in prison beside Jax years before. Sighing, I clenched my fists several times, trying to maintain a sense of calm. While Carter was very private and extremely cautious, if there was one place where he’d hide evidence, it would be at his posh estate.

I’d been there on two occasions, massive parties to announce another contract or new boat design. We’d hired enough security to keep the riffraff from gaining access, our guests some of the most influential members of society.

Given his appreciation for games as well as his vindictive nature, he’d keep every scrap of evidence as a tool to use if necessary. And he’d keep it in a safe location. I could only hope that karma would work in my favor.

“What I have planned is well worth it, Jax.”

“Which is?”

“Simple. I plan on taking away everything and everyone that matters to Carter. Every. Single. Thing.”

Including his woman.

The marina was exactly as I’d remembered, the location housing hundreds of boats and warehouses providing an impressive view of the city lights. I knew exactly where I was going, the code Rafael had used on the phone call two weeks before giving me everything I needed to know, including the berth. While there’d been no additional reports regarding my escape, we remained in the shadows as we approached, the weapon Jax had provided offering a level of comfort.

I led the way, scanning the perimeter every few yards. As we neared the dock, I detected a presence, swinging around, prepared to fire. The flashlight in my hand pinpointed the asshole who dared to confront us. Chuckling, I lowered my weapon.

As Rafael came out of the darkness, a grin on his face, I shook my head.

“You could have gotten yourself killed,” I said casually, noticing the weapon in his hand. He’d been just as prepared, as I’d known he would be.

“Then you underestimate me, brother. Damn, it’s good to see you.” He took two long strides, giving me a bear hug. How many times had we enjoyed a bottle of tequila while comparing business tactics?

“Never, my friend.”

Jax inched closer, holding out his hand. “I’m glad you’re here. I have a feeling we’re going to need all the freaking muscle we can find.”

I noticed Rafael’s hesitation before shaking the man’s hand. The bad blood remained between them. “Good to see you too, brother. Looks like life has been good to you,” Rafael said casually.

“Reunion time is for later. Time to get to our destination,” I said half under my breath.

“Agreed. I take it your boat can outrun anything,” Jax stated, glancing toward the sleek powerboat barely highlighted by the moon.

“She’s one of the finest,” Rafael said, the grin remaining on his face. “Somebody we know designed her.”

I walked closer, allowing a moment of admiration. I’d drawn the boat out on a napkin after several shots of tequila. She’d been the first speedboat built under my watch. “She’s beautiful.”

“Yes, she is,” Rafael half whispered.

“Did you find out what I requested?” I asked, studying the bay including the number of boats I could see on the water.

“Yeah, Carter will be heading to the island within a day or so. It would appear his girlfriend is arriving first just like suspected. A romantic getaway.”

I glanced at Rafael, my thoughts suddenly filled with filth. “Perfect. The special new woman in his life.”

Rafael patted me on the back. “Tiffany Cook is a photographer and she’s been very close to Carter for a little over a year. However, that’s all I know. I didn’t want to raise too many suspicions. Bradley is very conscientious about his private life. The girl has never been seen together with him, but there are stories about her art. Pretty kinky stuff.”

Kinky. I chuckled under my breath. Just like the man himself. I’d learned all about his filthy proclivities early on, his tastes bordering on sickening, even for a red-blooded man like myself. “Fascinating. Karma really is working in my favor.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” Rafael hissed.

“Just a little feast for all our hard work,” I answered.

“You’re really going to trap her?” Rafael seemed shocked.

I grinned, the evil side of me increasing. “Hell, yes. Little Tiffany is going to learn all about her sick boyfriend. We’re going to make a deal with her. If she helps us, she might enjoy a long stay with three rugged men.”

“A deal?” Jax glanced from Rafael into my eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“She’s going to tell us everything she knows and show us all the hiding places at his estate.” I laughed after saying the words.

“And if she doesn’t make a deal?” Rafael struggled to ask.

I wasn’t entirely certain how to answer. “We’ll have to see.”

“As discussed, I think we need to round this up, boys. It ain’t gonna be long before someone searches Miami,” Jax added.

“He really is going with us?” Rafael asked with a hint of disgust in his voice.

“Yeah, he is. Carter has enough firepower on the island.” This time, I glared at my friend. With what I had in mind, I’d need both men to help me.

“Then he’s right. Let’s get going. I have the scanner, which will tell us where the Coast Guard boats are, but things could always change. I sent the email you requested and before you ask, I created a fake account, which has now been terminated.” Rafael moved toward the boat.

Excellent. At least Carter was on notice, the threat hopefully clear enough.

I was coming for him.

I took another look at the bright lights of Miami. I’d thought I’d never see them again. Whether or not my plan of vengeance worked the way I wanted it to, I would find my way back to my former life.

While others might have thought I was ruthless before, they had no idea how far I was prepared to go.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.

I chuckled as the saying reverberated in my mind. This time, the sweet release of revenge was all mine.

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