Ashley picked up her satchel with Ben Stone’s laptop and stepped into the elevator. Her limbs dragged, weak from being so wound up for past twenty-four hours.
It’s almost over. Then Melissa will be safe and you can go to the police and tell Mr. Stone what you’ve done.
She took the elevator to the third floor of the parking garage and got off. Clutching the satchel to her chest, she walked forward, toward the northwest corner. She had parked her car there that morning just to familiarize herself with the area. The cement walls echoed with her footsteps, the smell of exhaust and gasoline oppressive. The lot seemed empty—no other cars, no people, nothing. She stood and waited. Had she heard the time or place wrong? No, the words were still echoing in her mind. Third floor, northwest corner of the lot. She opened her car door and sat down on the seat with the door standing open. Sweat trickled down her ribs. She thought she heard a door close, but when she looked around, she only saw the stairwell door, and no one was near it.
Time ticked by. Five minutes, then ten.
God, she hoped Melissa was okay.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of a car coming up the ramp. She stood up and took the laptop out of the satchel, her hands clumsy. The satchel dropped to the ground and she left it, craning her neck to get a look at the car.
A dark blue sedan approached. It was old and junky. She didn’t know what she’d expected, but it had definitely been something more impressive. A Humvee or something. She took a few steps forward to show herself.
The car stopped and three men got out. She tried to see in the darkened windows for another person. Where was Melissa? The men walked toward her. They were young men—scruffy-looking, with tattooed arms and piercings. They wore t-shirts and jeans and they palmed guns.
“Where’s Melissa?” she called out.
“You got the laptop?” one of them asked as they drew closer.
“Maybe,” she said, clutching it to her chest and backing toward her car. As if she had any chance of not giving it to them when they were armed and it was three against one. “Where’s Melissa?”
“She’s in the car. Give us the laptop and you can see her.” They had backed her up to her car now, surrounding her.
“I want to see her first.”
One of them cocked his gun and held it up to her temple, pushing hard against her skull. “Hand it over,” he said as his friend grabbed it and tried to pry it from her chest.
“No,” she said struggling.
The guy with the gun smacked her head with it and she fell back against the car. She lost her grip on the laptop and one of them snatched it away.
Another one grabbed her arm and yanked her forward. “You’re coming with us, honey,” he said.
A terrible snarl sounded from the other side of her car and suddenly a huge black animal leaped over the car, gleaming white teeth snapping. Its jaws closed over the neck of the man holding her and they both tumbled to the ground, the beast snarling and growling as they rolled together. Gunshots rang out from both directions, and the animal yelped and let go, but sprang to its feet, crouching to attack another man. The men continued to fire at the animal, the sound ricocheting around the concrete parking garage. Screaming blared in her ears—her own voice, she realized. The laptop had fallen to the ground and she grabbed it and took off running for their car. If her sister was in it, she needed to get to her.
The animal launched at her, knocking her down. She screamed, expecting it to move in for the kill, but instead it turned, lunging at one of the men.
“Let’s go, let’s get out of here,” one of them yelled, helping up the most severely wounded and dragging him toward their car.
She climbed to her feet to follow, but the wolf—or whatever it was—turned and snarled, blood dripping from its muzzle. She took a step back. It snarled again, blocking her way, then it chased the remaining man, tackling him once, but then taking another gunshot wound that left it lying as the man jumped in the driver’s seat and the car screeched off.
She ran a few steps after, then stopped, seeing the beast climb to its feet. She froze. It turned amber eyes on her and growled, low and menacing. It was covered in blood, and its fangs looked razor-sharp. It advanced.
She backed up slowly. “Easy, big guy,” she said, her heart in her throat. She didn’t make eye contact or any sudden movements. If she could just get to her car, she’d be all right. It continued to follow her, though, his head lowered, fangs bared. The growl was like nothing she’d ever heard before. Unworldly. Terrifying.
Her butt hit the car and she fumbled for the door, not wanting to turn her back on the animal.
The wolf stalked closer and she shrieked, scrambling up on the trunk to get away.
The beast suddenly transformed, growing taller, thinning out. She blinked, thinking she had lost her mind.
Ben Stone stood in front of her, dripping in blood, naked, and looking furious. He yanked open the back door to her car and pulled her off the trunk at the same time. “Get on the floor,” he said, pointing to the back seat. “Head down, eyes lowered. Now.”
Ben slammed the back door on Ashley’s huddled form and climbed in the driver seat, where he found her keys on the front seat. He drove like a bat out of hell down to the first floor of the parking garage, stopping behind his car.
He had a hidden button for keyless entry to the trunk, just for occasions like these. He also kept a duffel bag with clothes, spare keys, a wallet with a second set of credit cards, cash and IDs, and other useful items inside. He grabbed the bag and yanked on a pair of jeans.
Pulling out a roll of duct tape, he stalked around to Ashley’s car, where she had climbed out. He grabbed her wrists and wound the tape around them while her eyes rolled around in her head with horror.
Dammit. He had a world of trouble on his hands now. Not only had he allowed his enemies to get away, he’d revealed himself to Ashley, who also belonged on his enemy list.
He caught his breath when he saw her entire side was covered in blood. Shoving her back onto the car seat, he yanked open her blouse. Her skin was blotched with the blood, but he saw no bullet hole or wound.
“Where are you hurt?” he demanded.
“I-I,” she swallowed as if her mouth were dry. “I think it’s your blood,” she croaked.
He exhaled in relief and looked down at his own torso to survey the two gunshot wounds he’d taken. They would heal. He must have bled on her when he tackled her to stop her from going to their car.
He lifted Ashley’s ankles and wrapped the duct tape around them, then ripped off a smaller piece for her mouth.
She twisted her head away when he came toward her with it, the whites of her eyes glowing. “Please,” she panted, the metallic smell of fear coming off her in waves. “Please don’t.”
Don’t be soft. She’s the enemy.
He pointed a finger in her face. “You make one sound and I’ll put you in the trunk. Nod if you understand me.”
She bobbed her head up and down.
He slammed the door on her and climbed back in her car, tossing his duffel bag onto the seat beside him. He needed to get out of there before real trouble showed up. Those pathetic boys weren’t the brains behind the operation.
He knew Ashley wasn’t the mastermind, either, or she wouldn’t have been attacked by the men back there. Still, she had sold him out—and that bothered him more than any of the rest of it. Maybe, that first night when he met her, his instincts had gone off because she was a danger to him.
But no, that didn’t feel right. It had been attraction, not danger.
He pulled a baseball cap down low over his eyes and took off, out of the parking garage. He got on the highway and drove several miles, weaving in and out of traffic and keeping his eyes glued to his rearview mirror. They didn’t seem to have a tail. When he was sure of it, he took the next exit and pulled into a seedy motel on East Colfax—the kind that rented by the hour for cash and no ID.
He opened the back door and grabbed the duct tape again. He taped Ashley’s hands to her feet, then wound the tape around the handle of the back seat.
“You make one sound, or you try to escape, and I will kill you. Nod your head if you understand.”
She whimpered, panting for breath, but nodded.
“I will be right back. Don’t move.”
He slammed the door again and checked into a room. When he returned to the car, he cut her feet free and tossed a sweatshirt over her bound hands. “Let’s go,” he said, hauling her out of the car. “Not one sound out of you.”
She looked around wildly, but didn’t make a peep other than the sound of her breath rasping in her chest.
He took her into the room and used a length of rope to string her wrists up over the bathroom door. She stood on her tiptoes, swaying. Turning his back on her, he washed up, cleaning his gunshot wounds, which had nearly stopped bleeding. The bullets would come out in a few days. Shifters had incredible healing abilities. He rinsed his mouth out to rid the taste of blood and spit.
He was impressed that Ashley still hadn’t made a sound. He’d expected some kind of noise by this point. He turned back to her, considering.
“All right, Ashley. I’m going to ask you some questions and you’re going to answer.” He fished in his duffel bag for his belt and pulled it out. Walking behind her, he unzipped her skirt and let it fall to the floor.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she asked, sidling as far away from him as her bound wrists would allow.
“Baring my target.”
She whimpered, twisting and turning and looking up at the ropes binding her hands.
He ignored her antics and pulled her panties down just below her buttocks. He stood back to admire the view. He wasn’t surprised to find her ass as perfect as he’d imagined it. Picking up the belt, he wound the buckle end around his fist.
Her eyes bulged. He caught her hips and turned her to face away from him. “I suggest you hold still,” he warned just before he brought his belt down across her buttocks with a light slap to perfect his aim.
She shrieked, dancing away from him, her feet lifting from the floor and kicking in the air. His intention had been to intimidate her, and it seemed to be working, because he knew that hadn’t really hurt her. He caught her wrists and pinned them against the door to hold her in place. He struck again, just a little harder.
She jumped as if shocked by electricity, her feet dancing to one side.
“Who hired you to kill me?” he demanded.
Noises came out of her, but they were incoherent sputtering.
He whipped her again. “I asked you a question,” he growled. “Who hired you to kill me?”
A string of nonsense syllables erupted from her, tumbling from her mouth one after the next.
He considered. He’d wanted her scared, but having her too terrified to speak wouldn’t work. Walking around the front of her, he pulled out his knife. Her eyes rolled back when he lifted the blade. He cut her down just as her eyelids fluttered and she fainted.
He caught her limp form as it tumbled down and carried her to the bed where he sat with her cradled in his arms.
Within a few seconds her eyes opened and she blinked, looking up at his face.
He brushed the hair back from her big blue eyes and they looked at each other. Propping her up on his knee, he said, “Okay, we’re going to try this again. I need answers from you and you’re going to give them to me.”
She immediately began to struggle, twisting in his arms as if to dive off his lap. He used it to his advantage, pulling her face down over his knees. Her panties were still tangled around her thighs. His hand slapped down on her bare ass with a satisfying smack. She had a perfect bottom for spanking—plump and round, muscled globes that led into shapely thighs.
He slapped one side, then the other, over and over again. He’d just wanted to make her talk without actually harming her, but as he spanked her, his anger over her betrayal ebbed, turning to sympathy as she kicked and wriggled and her beautiful ass turned rosy and then a darker shade of pink. He held her snugly against his body and took care not to slap too hard. Shifters had superhuman strength, and the idea of bruising or actually harming his little assistant didn’t sit well with him. Even if she had tried to kill him.
“How much did you get paid for killing me?”
He spanked the back of her thigh, causing her to yelp and kick. “How much?”
“Ow… ah… I wasn’t trying to kill you. All I had to do was take your laptop,” she gasped in a rush.
“And leave the one with the explosives in it.”
She went still for a moment, her head lifting.
His heart skipped a beat. She hadn’t known about the bomb. Satisfaction warmed his blood. He rested his hand on her blazing cheeks.
“Who gave you the laptop?”
“I don’t know.”
He resumed spanking. “Who hired you?”
“No one hired me.”
He spanked harder.
“Wait!” she cried. “It’s true—no one hired me. They kidnapped my sister!”
He froze, his hand mid-air.
“They said they would bring her tonight, but she wasn’t there.” Ashley’s voice sounded strangled.
Ashley abruptly found herself lifted upright and plopped on Ben’s knee, his green eyes boring through her.
“It’s true,” she whispered, seeing he was searching for something in her face.
“You should have come to me,” he said, his voice hard like steel.
Her bottom throbbed, his jeans rough against her bare skin. She swallowed. “They said they’d kill her,” she croaked.
He pursed his lips. The intensity with which he regarded her had an animal-like quality—as if he was a hunter and she his prey.
The memory of the huge wolf leaping over her car flashed in her mind. “What are you?” she whispered.
Abruptly, he stood, shoving her to her feet. “Go stand in the corner with your panties down,” he said, pointing to the juncture of two walls, his expression dangerous.
She didn’t even think of not obeying—he had her so cowed, she would have dropped to her knees and licked his shoe if he’d ordered it.
She shuffled across the room, putting her nose in the corner, intensely aware of her bare ass on full display. She wondered how red it looked. Her cheeks felt hot and stingy and for some bizarre reason, her pussy pulsed in rhythm with the throb there.
“I’m stepping outside. Don’t move, not even an inch from that corner. If you do, I will spank you again and this time it will be with my belt.”
She shivered, but need made her dare to ask, “What if I have to pee?” She peeked over her shoulder at him.
His eyes narrowed. “Do you?”
“Go now, then,” he said.
She walked toward the bathroom, grabbing one side of her panties with her bound hands and trying to pull them up.
“Leave them,” he barked.
She looked over to find him trailing behind her toward the bathroom.
“What are you doing?”
“Keeping an eye on you.” He leaned in the doorway to the bathroom and folded his arms across his chest.
She willed herself to stop blushing as she sat on the toilet and stared at a spot on the floor. When she finished, she wrestled with the toilet paper, the duct tape making it hard for her to wipe herself.
“Need some help?” he asked.
Was that the glimmer of a smirk on his lips? She glared at him. “No.” She started to pull up her panties, then stopped, figuring he’d bark at her again.
“That’s right,” he said, motioning her forward. “Panties stay down until I pull them up.”
She made a huffing sound and tried to walk without shuffling, back to the corner.
Woof. She didn’t say it out loud.
Her boss was a werewolf. A huge, black, terrifying beast who somebody had tried to use her to kill. Why? And what would he do with her now?
She stood holding her breath as he left. Her bottom was on fire, and the humiliating position infuriated her, but she was very well aware of the fact that he hadn’t hurt her. Well, other than her backside. Considering she’d just seen him trying to rip throats out with huge, sharp fangs, that said something.
The memory of him standing shirtless over her, tearing open her blouse and examining her with concern flitted before her eyes. Even though he thought she’d tried to kill him, he’d been checking her for injuries. He’d rescued her from those men, who had been trying to take her with them.
The motel door opened and closed and she sensed him behind her.
His thumbs hooked under the elastic of her panties, sending an electric shock where they touched her skin. Despite it all—despite her terror that he was going to kill her, despite the rather sound spanking he’d given her, despite the humiliation he’d just subjected her to, her body thrummed just to be near him.
He slowly drew her panties up, an act that seemed more intimate even than if they’d just had sex. Her pussy clenched.
“Good girl,” he murmured, his breath hot in her ear. Her nipples puckered. Shivers of electric excitement ran through her body, but too soon, he stepped back. “Put on your skirt, we’re leaving.”
“Where are we going?” she asked, her knees weak as she tried to step into her skirt without falling.
“You’re not in a position to ask questions,” he said and gave her panty-clad bottom another slap.
“Am I your prisoner?”
He pulled the pillowcase off one of the pillows and used it to cover her bound wrists as he led her to the door. “Yeah. You’re my prisoner.” His voice was deep and gruff and it seemed to enter her body and send shockwaves from her core down her legs.
He led her to her car and opened the back door. “Get in.”
She slid into the back seat. He immediately pushed her down to lie on the seat and taped her wrists to the base of the front seat, preventing her from sitting up. He leaned over her with the pillowcase open and she realized his intent.
“Wait, no,” she shrieked as the case came down over her head.
The car door slammed.
“Mr. Stone,” she cried. “Ben! Please. Please take it off.” She struggled to dislodge it, rubbing her head against the seat.
The car started.
“Please. Please,” she begged.
“Calm down, Ashley. I can’t have you seeing where I’m taking you.”
The car began to move.
“Get this off me. Get this fucking thing—” She thrashed around, yanking at her wrists to get them free. “Oh, God,” she moaned when it seemed clear he wasn’t going to take it off and she couldn’t get it off on her own. “Oh, God.”
Panic took over. She couldn’t breathe. She screamed over and over again, drawing in short gasps of breath between shrieks. Her feet kicked at the door, her bound wrists thrashed so much she punched herself in the face.
The car swerved and braked hard.
Oh, crap, she’d made him mad. He was going to put her in the trunk. She tried to stop screaming, but she couldn’t get control.
The car door opened and the pillowcase came off with a whoosh. He reached for her and she cowered, thinking he would strike her. Instead his large hands grasped her head, cupping it, stilling her. His palms were over her ears, muffling her sense of sound. The forced quiet gave her a strange sense of security, as if she was cocooned safely by those hands, protected.
He was leaning over her, his brows drawn together with the same expression he’d worn when he thought she’d been hurt. Pained—like her panic attack had caused him pain. And he’d shrugged off his own bullet wounds. Which… what the hell had happened to them? He wasn’t even bleeding anymore, nor did she see any sign of a bandage under his tight-fitting t-shirt.
“You’re claustrophobic.” It was a statement, rather than a question.
She nodded rapidly, still unable to catch her breath.
He began to fold the pillowcase lengthwise. She jerked away when he held it up to her head, but he persisted, wrapping it over her eyes like a blindfold. It wasn’t long enough for him to tie in the back, though.
“I won’t look. I’ll lie down and I won’t look, I promise,” she promised, still shaking like a leaf.
He ignored her, pulling out the duct tape. Once more, he positioned the pillowcase over her eyes, then wrapped the duct tape all the way around her head, securing the fabric like a crown around her head. “There,” he said. “Lie down.”
A wedge of fresh fear shot up and she groped wildly for him, her fingers landing on his t-shirt, which she wrapped up in her fist. His heavy hand dropped onto her nape. He muttered a curse, then pulled her out of the car.
She panicked, twisting wildly in his grip. “Not the trunk. Please—not the trunk. I’ll be good, I promise.”
To her shock, he wrapped his arms around her and held her against his chest. He didn’t say a word, but there was no mistaking the intended comfort. She clung to him, her body trembling against his hard muscled form. She drank in his strength, the solidity of his body. Inch by inch, her body relaxed.
“You’re not going in the trunk,” he said gruffly. “You’re riding up front with me.”
“Oh.” She willed herself to stop shaking as she took a deep breath. He released her from the embrace and wrapped a firm arm around her waist, guiding her forward and around the car. He followed her head in with his hand as she sat, the way the cops do on crime shows. His weight pressed against her and she heard the click of her seatbelt.
Returning to the driver side, he climbed in. She heard the rustle of movement, then he grasped her head and pulled her down until it connected with his thigh. He’d put something soft over the center console—a sweatshirt, maybe. She appreciated the thoughtfulness. “Stay down,” he said, a note of warning in his voice.
She brought her bound wrists to his leg and wrapped her hands around it, as if he were her security blanket, and she just needed to feel his warmth to stay calm.
He put the car in gear and backed out, one hand still on her nape holding her down. Except then his hand began to move. His fingers threaded into her hair and closed into a fist, tugging slightly but not hurting her. They opened and closed again.
She held perfectly still, not wanting him to stop. She imagined his hands gripping other parts of her body, his touch rough, his grasp firm. What would it be like to be taken by him? Did werewolves have sex with humans? The image of him rolling with his opponent in wolf form, all snarls and teeth, returned to her.
What was he going to do with her? Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome, but she wanted to believe he would take care of her. That he wouldn’t harm her.
But what about Melissa? She was someone’s prisoner right now, too—if she was still alive. Had she been harmed? How had her captors treated her?
Ashley needed to escape Ben Stone and get to her sister with the laptop before it was too late. She needed to get her head back in the game and come up with a plan, right away.
Ben didn’t mean to make love to Ashley’s hair with his hand, but once he’d buried his fingers in the glossy, thick mane, it became a compulsion. He stroked along the back of her head, twisting it up into fistfuls and releasing it. Damn, he wanted her.
He’d smelled her arousal when he’d put her in the corner. It had shocked him. He’d just scared her to the point of fainting and then spanked her until her ass turned rosy and she still wanted him? His cock stiffened at the thought. What about this human woman affected him so strongly?
She shifted her position, pulling her hands away from his leg and moving her feet. She was probably completely cramped in the position in which he’d put her. Her foot tangled with her purse where he’d thrown it on the passenger side floor.
It took him a moment to realize she was stealthily moving the bag closer to her. He watched, waiting to see what she was up to. She made another shuffling movement and used it to shove the bag up underneath her hands.
Bile rose in his throat, the wound from her earlier deception still raw. He willed his breathing to stay in control as she rolled her body forward, her face pressing into his leg. Her bound hands dropped into the bag, as if idly hanging there. When they emerged, she clutched her phone.
He pulled the car over to the side and threw it in park. In a swift motion, he hauled her torso further over his lap and whipped up her skirt.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded, snatching the phone from her hand. Yanking her panties into her crack, he landed several hard spanks on her sit spots with it. It was a stretch to reach her backside in the awkward position, but he managed it, punishing her already red bottom while she writhed and squirmed beneath him. She had a wide, thin phone and its plastic case made a satisfying thwap each time it connected with her rosy flesh. “Dammit, Ashley! Was the claustrophobia just a big ruse? Were you just tricking me to earn my sympathy?”
“No,” she shrieked. “No, it wasn’t a trick. Stop, please. Ouch!”
“I will stop when I have made my disgruntlement clear.”
She wriggled over his lap as he continued to spank her. “Ow, stop!” She sank her teeth into his left thigh.
Rather than anger him, it had the odd effect of making him want to throw her down and fuck her brains out. Female wolves bite and snarl while having sex, and she had just flipped a switch in him. His vision domed and his teeth sharpened with the need to mark her. He leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes and breathing deeply to regain control.
She didn’t take the pause in spanking as a victory, huddled tense and still on his lap. “I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice.
He didn’t open his eyes. “Who were you going to call?” he asked in a tired voice.
“No one. I just need my phone… in case they call.”
Irritation cut through his arousal, bringing him back to his rational self. “Did you think I wouldn’t let you answer it? Setting up a new meeting is key to me figuring out who the hell is behind this.”
Her little hands pawed at his jeans, plucking the fabric. “Sorry,” she said in a small voice. “I didn’t know.” After a moment of silence, she said, “I was thinking I might text them.”
“Well, getting the blindfold off was my next problem.”
He made a growling sound. “What were you going to text?”
“Something like, I still have the laptop and I want my sister.”
He handed her the phone and pulled up the blindfold by an inch. “Go ahead.”
She texted the words and showed him first before hitting send. He took the phone from her and put it in his pocket, then pushed the blindfold back in place. “You don’t move without my permission, understand?”
He sighed and started the car back up.
“What about my sister?”
“We’ll find her,” he said.
She pushed herself up, her elbow going into his erection.
“Ouch.” He jerked and pulled her back down to the original position. “Stay.”
He almost smiled at that. Damn, she really tweaked him. He let himself touch her hair again, telling himself it was only to move it out of her face. But that didn’t make sense, since she couldn’t see anyway. The silky strands slid between his fingers as he pulled back on the road and tried to ignore the sight of her ass, still on display and flossed with her panties. The smell of her arousal filled the car like aromatherapy for his already raging libido.
He pulled up at the old warehouse his brother’s pack used as a meeting place. No other cars were there, but that didn’t mean anything. Mark Ruhl had talked him through disarming the explosives on the phone, but he’d arranged to meet him here to give him the laptop so he could analyze it, and monitor when the signal was sent for it to detonate. While at the motel, he’d called Stanley and asked him to come to the meeting as well. He would need a ride back to Stone Tech to get his car and the laptop and he needed someone to watch Ashley while he went. It wouldn’t be safe to bring her back to the scene.
He entered cautiously, scenting the air. Empty. He pulled off the pillowcase blindfold once they were inside. Pointing to an old couch against one wall, he said, “Sit.”
She glared at him, but obeyed.
“Little girl,” he said, “You need to stop giving me those dirty looks, or I will take you back over my knee for a reminder of who is in charge around here.”
She wobbled on her feet, and he would swear the look she gave him was pure desire, but she looked hastily away.
“That’s better,” he said, his voice thicker than usual.
He lifted his head, catching a sound at the back door. It pushed open and Stanley and three other males strode in, naked. Shifters were unabashed about nudity, but for the first time, he found himself bothered, not liking the way Ashley stared at them. They grabbed clothes from their lockers, stalking over, eyeing her. He became acutely aware of how out of place she looked, still dressed in her narrow work skirt and heels, her blood-stained blouse gaping because he’d popped all the buttons off when he tore it open to check for injury. Why the hell hadn’t he put her in his shirt first?
“Hey, Stanley,” he said. “Hey, guys.”
“You don’t need to know,” he said. To Ashley, he said, “Lower your eyes.”
She obeyed him, although he could see she was alert and paying attention.
“You brought a human to our private location,” Stanley stated the obvious, his eyes narrowed.
“She was blindfolded.”
“She knows what we are.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“I’ll handle her.”
The general code was to kill outsiders who found out. He bristled. “It’s my problem and I’ll take care of it.”
Stanley raised his brows, looking at Ashley dubiously. “She looks like trouble.”
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