As advertised, he’s twisted. I regret not breaking free and running when I had the chance. I could’ve tried to get away outside the poker house. Or when he stopped for a red light. Would he have chased me down on a public street? When businesses might have security cameras facing the sidewalk? Probably not. Instead, I sat politely in the passenger seat while he kidnapped me.
I blame his looks. Even now, when Trick’s actually said he’s going to break me down by beating me, I have trouble believing it. He’s handsome and calm, even flashes his smile occasionally.
Then I think about the way he sat with Enzo Palermo’s gun pressed to his head. He acted like that was nothing. He didn’t blink or grimace. Maybe there was a wince when the gun hit his head, but then he went back to neutral. How could anyone stay quiet during something like that? Most couldn’t, I answer myself. He’s not normal.
I look around for a weapon or a way to signal anyone nearby that I’m in trouble. The room has no windows. “What happened to you?”
“When?” he asks as he walks over.
“Whenever. What happened to make you this way?”
“What way is that?” he asks, taking my arm in his firm grip.
He’s all muscle. In clothes, he looks tall and lean, but without his shirt it’s clear he works out regularly. He’s got the shoulders, biceps, and six-pack of someone who’s well acquainted with the weight room of his local gym. If the criminal underworld ever does a calendar, he should be on the cover.
“Sadistic and homicidal.”
He flashes a smile, and it’s gorgeous. Ridiculously, it warms something inside me.
“That’s a personal question. Not something we’re gonna get into tonight.”
An unpleasant sensation twists in my chest. This is just business to him?
“But for the record, I’m not sadistic.”
“You have a room set up to torture women. What would you call it?”
“I may scream.”
“I’d imagine you will,” he says. Then he grabs me, and I start to thrash and fight, but it’s not the way I’d fight someone else. I don’t actually want to hurt him. I just want him to stop.
Unfortunately, he’s not halfhearted about what he’s doing. In seconds, I’m face down on the bed with my arm bent up into my back. He puts pressure on my wrist and elbow that turns painful. I shriek and stop fighting. The pressure eases, so he’s just holding my arm without hurting me.
“You can’t win,” he says. “Be good and lie still.”
Tears sting my eyes. “Don’t do this to me.”
“You’ve got that backward. You betrayed me. Now tell me what I want to know.”
Shivering because his hard tone is tough to take, I still manage to keep my own voice steady. “I don’t have to tell you anything. You already know all the reasons that you’re being targeted. And none of them have anything to do with me.”
“Tough talk. I’ll bet you five hundred bucks it takes me less than an hour to get you to tell me everything.”
His smugness infuriates me, but I don’t answer. Whenever I’m the most angry, I become silent.
He cuffs my left ankle into a padded restraint. Fighting to keep my right leg out of his grasp, I kick out over and over, but eventually he gets it and drags it down to shackle it in place.
“I’m curious about something,” he says, his tone casual, like we’re having a quiet drink rather than fighting each other for control of my body.
Tucking my arms under my chest, I resist as long as I can. But he wins and wins again, getting my arms tethered in the leather restraints so my wrists are chained to opposite ends of the headboard. My heart hammers uncontrollably. Do some women like this? Because I’m scared, which doesn’t feel good. Also, my fear makes me angry at him and myself.
“You know what C Crue is, right?”
“My parents still live in Coynston.” The words come out laced with bitterness.
“And you thought the plan to drug me would go unanswered?”
“I wasn’t supposed to know the person at the game! It was supposed to be someone lower in your organization. And he wasn’t even supposed to realize he’d been drugged. He should’ve felt buzzed. Not sick, just foggy for a while.”
“To get him loose enough to talk?”
“It’s just hearsay and your word against his without a recording, though. Did you try to record the game on your phone? We’ll check that in a bit.”
I purse my lips. He’s so clever, as always. And of course he knows the law. That’s necessary for him to know how to evade prosecution. A part of me remembers how I loved his quick wit, his brilliance. I hate it now. Almost.
“You had a choice to stop when you saw I was the one you’d been sent to catch.”
I did stop, I think. But that was probably a mistake. Maybe if I’d kept the wire on, I wouldn’t be in his apartment now.
Although if they wanted to track me, couldn’t they do it through my phone? Which is in my purse in his Range Rover downstairs.
“Because, FYI, I’m not the right guy to try to roofie. I did drugs recreationally. I’ve taste-tested a lot of product. I can tell what I’m tasting and usually exactly what it’s been cut with. Aspirin. Baking powder. Whatever.”
“It is. Maybe someone else wouldn’t have noticed. But I’m not a good mark to slip something to. My tongue’s too good.”
Does he mean the double entendre? My body registers it, and my nipples tighten. His sliding a wedge under my stomach raises my hips and ass above the rest of my body. Jesus. And why does my belly clench with more than fear at being positioned this way?
“Scott, come on. You’re not really going to do this, are you?”
“Calling me by my first name is a mistake. If you want to call me something, Sir’s the word you want.”
Is he serious? I turn my head, meeting his eyes. Yes, he’s very serious.
“Only the girls in my family call me by my first name. Every time you use it, it reminds me you’re a girl who oversteps. Wrong strategy.”
I stare at him. Is that really how it feels to him when I call him by his first name? Or does it remind him of how long we’ve known each other? I think it’s the latter. I’m counting on it, in fact.
He slides the t-shirt up my back so my sheer cream panties are exposed. I’m lying with the foam wedge under my stomach, positioned for a spanking… or sex. Does it turn him on? I’d bet him the five hundred dollars from earlier it does.
I take a halting breath. I should be terrified, but there’s also something darkly sexual in all of this, and that part is almost alluring.
“Why are you like this?” I ask, shivering, desperate to feel in control of something, even if it is just the conversation.
“Who sent you to the game?”
I swallow. I don’t think the truth will make him more lenient with his damn paddle. I think it’s likely to piss him off more, so I shake my head. If he’s going to hurt me either way, why should I tell him anything?
He slaps my ass a few times with his hand. I jerk each time, not from the stinging, but because each slap startles me. The warmth and sting don’t really hurt; in fact they heighten my awareness of him.
“Your ass is fantastic,” he says. “Too bad the circumstances call for me to punish you. This could’ve been a different kind of spanking.”
I stare at a point on the bedspread, trying to stay calm, trying to detach myself from what’s happening. “What other kind is there?”
He squeezes a handful of buttock. “One that’s foreplay.”
Something deep and sensual clenches inside me, and I remember how bottomless my crush was. Back then, he hinted at dark sexual fantasies. I hinted back I was game to let him experiment with me. I was so attracted, and he was a mystery I desperately wanted to unravel. If I’m being honest, I’d still like to. It’s probably why I went ahead with drugging his drink. He refused to talk to me and it upset me… which is ridiculous after so much time. The sedative in his drink could’ve been my one chance to scratch through Scott Patrick’s enigmatic surface.
“How long have you been doing this sort of thing?” I ask.
“Long time. Who set me up?” he counters.
I purse my lips, trying to muster my anger that I’m in such a vulnerable position. He wouldn’t have stripped a man and made him lie over a foam wedge with his ass in the air to be paddled like a naughty schoolgirl. He’s a sadistic misogynist. I’m lucky things ended when they did.
A hard smack of the paddle shocks me. I stiffen. The sting reverberates through me. That one wasn’t cute or sweet or sexy. Then another, harder still. I groan in pain and try to jerk sideways off the wedge, but his hand on my back and the taut chains keep me in position.
My voice is sharp. “That’s enough.”
Then the paddle swings down quickly, one, two, three, four. I’m breathless from the hard cracks that send shockwaves of pain through my muscles. The blows continue, rattling my bones and driving the air from my lungs.
Fighting the restraints doesn’t help me escape; it only causes the t-shirt to ride up higher so my breasts are partially exposed.
Kicking my legs against the mattress as the paddle falls again and again, I struggle. The blows flatten my flesh momentarily until it springs back, reverberating with pain and heat. Warmth blossoms in my ass and then seeps lower, making me squirm as an ache develops deep in my core.
Trick doesn’t relent, or even pause. If anything, the strokes get harder. I clench my buttocks and groan at the merciless paddling he gives my defenseless ass, covering the whole surface until it’s on fire.
Tears sting and fill my eyes. “Please. I can’t—please!”
He pauses, and I collapse against the bolster and mattress, wretched tears spilling. A cool palm rests against my wounded ass and squeezes firmly. I jerk, cursing him and then crying harder.
“I want the name, little girl.”
“No more!” I snap, trying to keep my voice steady as I cry. He’s a fucking monster.
“Tell me what I want to know.”
“Enzo,” I lie. “He wanted you incapacitated.”
“No. And lying’s a bigger mistake than trying to drug me.”
A flurry of blows causes me to spiral out of control. I scream and tear at the blanket. I curse at him and call him names and screech like a banshee.
Trick keeps going until the pain burns so deep I can’t stand it. I break down into sobs, begging him to stop, promising to tell him everything.
He pauses. “So tell me.”
Sobs break the words apart, but I manage, “Milt Schager—he told me—C Crue’s—trafficking girls. Younger than sixteen! I saw—how could you?”
“Who’s Milt Schager?” he asks calmly.
“Fuck you,” I rasp.
“Calm down. C Crue isn’t involved in human trafficking. Never has been.”
“I don’t need to lie.”
“So what are you involved in?”
“Plenty of things, but not human trafficking. Innocent women and children are off limits. It’s why we broke from Frank Palermo in the first place.”
“Did you kill Frank Palermo?”
Trick’s eyes narrow. “Frank Palermo got killed while shooting at his own daughter and her mother.”
“I know, but who shot him?” I ask, and I’m not sure who I’m asking for. I’ve already thrown away the wire. Would an admission from him now change things and make me report what he tells me to the FBI? No, even the thought makes me uncomfortable.
His deep blue gaze locks onto my face. “Frank Palermo was in a moving car that was spraying bullets in a wide arc. Shooting Frank wasn’t amateur hour.”
It’s as close to an admission as I’m likely to get. Strangely, I don’t have an emotional reaction. Maybe because I’m convinced Frank Palermo was a bigger monster than Trick and his friends will ever be. I remember the stories of Palermo forcing young kids to work for him as runners or mules, and the beatings they got if they made mistakes. The rumor is that Connor McCann ordered that to stop, but it didn’t. And Trick fought with an older man in the Palermo organization, which caused the break where C Crue formed their own organization. The trafficking didn’t really make sense since C Crue’s reputation has never been one of an organization that preys on kids. So either the trafficking is something C Crue rationalizes in a different way, or the FBI made a mistake in attributing trafficking to them.
Closing my eyes tight, I try to force the tears to stop as I suck in a shuddering breath. I do not want to sob again.
“How many people have you killed?” I whisper.
“Who’s Milt Schager?”
“A man who’s set on catching you. There are probably a lot of them, and rightly so it seems.” My voice is harsher than I mean for it to be.
He chuckles. “You think your ass can take the punishment your smart mouth is asking for?”
I suck in a breath, but when I speak my voice is firm. “No more.”
“Then spill the details.”
“There’s nothing more to tell.”
“Wrong answer.” The paddle slams down against my ass.
I screech and then let loose a string of curses.
He paddles me faster and harder, until I’m sobbing and broken again, and this time shaking racks my body and I’m limp over the wedge, completely defenseless.
“Who is he?”
The truth’s his for the taking, like my body. It’s confusing to want closeness from him in the midst of this agony, but I do. When we were younger, I loved the sweetness and sexiness I always got from him. But a part of me finds this darkness compelling and sexy, too. This version of him is the one I’ve always wanted to know.
The words are choppy and slurred as I cry. “He’s FBI. They want access to your network.” Then I circle back to the thing that matters to me. I need to know the truth, so I push him. “The girls in the picture he showed me were so young. They looked twelve. How can you guys do that to children? You have sisters, Scott.”
“He tricked you. There’s no human trafficking. Whatever picture he showed you, it wasn’t from a C Crue operation. And your falling for it shows you don’t know me at all.” He pulls the wedge out from under me and un-cuffs my wrists and ankles.
I curl into a ball, crying partly from pain, partly from relief that he’s done punishing me, and partly because it hurts to hear the disgust in his tone when he says I don’t know him.
The jagged sobs hurt my raw throat.
He stands and silently walks out.
I cover my face, trying to muffle the crying that I can’t seem to stop.
After a few moments, he returns and the bed sags under his weight. “Here.” A warm washcloth lands on my hands. “If this—if things were another way, I’d take care of you.”
“What?” I rasp, confused. Putting my face into the wet rag, I let it catch my sobs.
He’s silent for a time. “Fuck it.” He lies on the bed and pushes my knees down so he can pull my chest against his chest.
I struggle a little, but it’s token resistance. I can’t explain why, but I let him draw me to him and lock his arms around me, the ones that were punishing me just minutes earlier.
“You can’t do these kinds of things. You just can’t,” I whisper.
He holds me tighter, rubbing my back, pushing his thumbs into pressure points until my aching muscles release and relax. I’ve had them clenched so hard they were spasming; it feels so much better when he forces me to let go of the tension.
I lose all sense of time. Everything is sensation. The terrible throbbing in my ass, my quivering leg muscles, my shaking chest, my weeping eyes. And past that, his strong arms and the warm male scent of his body. His low voice soothes me, as does his warm breath against my face. As I melt into the mattress, I feel like I’m floating.
I’m not crying anymore, but not because I’ve regained control. I’m detached and weightless. Occasionally I shiver until he stands and puts the blanket over me.
“Are you going?” I ask when he doesn’t lie back down after covering me. It’s been a long time since I was caught in Scott Patrick’s gravitational pull, but I clearly am.
“To the kitchen. To get you some water.” He walks out and comes back a few minutes later.
I take the glass and drink greedily. I’m so thirsty. When the glass is empty I hold it out unsteadily.
“More?” he asks.
He starts to walk away.
He turns back, his eyes a blue-green that reminds me of the sea. “Yeah?”
“So do I owe you five hundred dollars?” I try to inject bitterness into my voice, but don’t manage it. My tone is more curious than furious.
“Compared to other girls, did I break quicker? Or more slowly?” Why this matters to me, I have no idea. Maybe because I was a competitive athlete. Maybe because when we were together I’d wanted him to experiment on me sexually and always wondered whether I could’ve held my own during wild, kinky sex with him.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve never punished a girl before.”
My head raises to look more closely at him. “Come on. You’ve spanked plenty of women.”
“Yes. Many.” He takes a breath and shrugs. “But not like that.”
I tilt my head. “Really?”
He nods and starts to leave again. And again, I can’t let him go.
“What happens now? Next, I mean.”
“Just go to sleep. We’ll talk later.”
I put the washcloth on the nightstand, then lie on my side. He stops in the doorway, watching me silently. I pull a pillow over and rest my head on it and close my eyes, so I don’t have to watch him leave.
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