“Going to shoot me?” The woman before him taunted. A woman who should have been a ghost. “Going to leave me to die alone? Again?”
Drake Archer circled her. They were in a small apartment, and the scent of death already filled the air around them.
The beautiful woman before him—Anna Jean—she had a knife. He had to get that knife away from her.
She’s already hurt too many people. I have to stop her. He opened his hand. Held it out to her. “Give me the knife.”
She laughed at him.
Her laugh was so familiar. Once that laughter had seemed to warm him, now it made ice grow around his heart because he saw her for exactly what she was.
Her beauty only went skin deep. Evil was at her core.
Drake started to shake his head. How had he been so wrong about her? How?
And in that one moment, Anna Jean attacked. She lunged forward and drove her knife into Drake’s stomach, and then she yanked, jerking the blade to the right. He fell back, stunned, as his blood pumped from him and a chill seemed to consume his whole body.
“This time, you get to die,” Anna Jean told him and she was smiling.
His knees sagged. Drake hit the floor.
No, no, he wasn’t supposed to go out like this. And…it was all his fucking fault. He’d trusted the wrong woman. Fell for lying eyes.
Anna Jean wasn’t going to stop. She was a killer, straight to her soul. There were others in the apartment. Others that she would take out with a cold, calculated brutality. He had to stop her.
His blood soaked his shirt. He tried to look up, to move, but his whole body trembled.
Anna Jean drew closer to him. He could feel her gaze, even though he couldn’t see her face. “Maybe he did love me,” she mused. “Because if he’d been smart, he would’ve shot me when he had the chance. Instead, I had the pleasure of gutting him.” Her voice dropped. “That’s what you get for leaving me in the cold.”
I never loved you. When Anna Jean moved to step around him, his hand flew out. His fingers locked around her ankle. “No…” Drake growled.
“Oh, darling, relax, I’ll slit your throat and end things soon.”
And she would. Without any hesitation. When he’d been the one to foolishly hesitate.
He would never hesitate again. Drake tried to heave his body up. I have to stop her.
He would do anything…anything…to stop her.
Drake pushed through the pain even as more of his blood pumped from his body. He managed to grab the knife that Anna Jean had used on him. She wasn’t expecting another attack from him, not then. She thought he was too weak.
Her mistake. Drake lunged up, and he drove the knife into her heart. Anna Jean gasped. Her eyes widened. She turned her head to look at him.
“I didn’t…miss this time,” he managed to tell her. No, he’d ended Anna Jean.
She died in his arms.
And his blood kept flowing out…
Drake jerked upright in bed, his body soaked in sweat and the memories still twisting in his head. Because that hadn’t been a dream. No nightmare to mess with his head.
That had been his sick reality.
His hand slid over the newest scar on his stomach. A wound that had come far too close to taking him out.
Only he’d survived.
His ex-lover hadn’t.
She wasn’t his first kill. Not even close. But she was the one who haunted him. Because of her, he’d learned an important lesson.
Drake would never again fall for another woman’s lies.
Drake Archer wasn’t looking for trouble. He didn’t want complications. He didn’t want questions.
He wanted to fuck. Wanted to sink into the arms of a sweet-smelling woman and pretend the nightmares that chased him every time he closed his eyes weren’t real.
Even though he knew they were.
The club was packed. His club. He owned the casino and the club that was attached to it. So he stood on the top floor of his domain, behind the tinted glass, and he watched the crowd. Bodies gyrated down there. Women and men heaved against each other. Music was pounding, but he didn’t hear the beat or any of the voices that must be rising down there. He’d soundproofed this room. He liked to watch the others, but he sure as hell didn’t want anyone seeing—or hearing—him.
Some women wore glittering dresses. Some wore scraps that were designed to turn men into lusting monsters.
His gaze swept over the crowd, moving a few more feet, as his attention slowly shifted toward the bar.
Then his eyes narrowed.
The woman standing at the bar—her fingers curled around the slender stem of a martini glass—she wasn’t like the others.
Her hair was a dark red, glinting under the lights. It skimmed her shoulders, moving slightly as she turned her head and gazed—right up at me.
She wore all black. Not some seductive dress. But pants and a form fitting turtle-neck. She reminded him of a sexy jewel thief for a moment, and his lips quirked at the image.
He put his hand to the glass when another man approached her. A slickly dressed guy, oozing pompous confidence and cash. The jerk put his hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged him away.
Then she kept staring right up at Drake.
His jewel thief truly acted as if she saw him. Impossible, of course. There was no way that she could see through that tinted glass.
She crooked her finger at him.
A wide smile flashed across her face, and the redhead crooked her finger one more time. A dare. A taunt.
She did know he was there. Maybe she’d gotten chatty with the wait staff. Maybe the bartender had told her that Drake would occasionally invite women up to his private lounge.
But the redhead was dead wrong about the way this scene was played. He didn’t dance to anyone else’s tune. A pretty face and a sexy body wasn’t about to get to him.
He needed, he wanted, but he was the one always in control.
In business and in the bedroom, Drake knew how to dominate.
He wouldn’t be going to the little redhead.
He dropped his hand.
That just wasn’t the way he worked.
Jasmine Bennett’s heart was about to burst right out of her chest. And, thanks to the ever pounding music, she was pretty sure that her ear drums might be about to burst, too.
“Let me buy you a drink,” the guy next to her said, and the fellow’s lips brushed over her ear as he leaned in real close to make that offer.
She shoved him back. He was in the way. The last thing she wanted was for Drake Archer to think that she was involved with this bozo. She’d planned too hard for this moment. There was no way some drunk playboy was going to wreck her night.
“Not interested,” Jasmine gritted out. Talk about not taking a hint. The guy just couldn’t get it to save his life. This was the third time. The third time that she’d told him to back off. But he wasn’t backing anywhere.
He was crowding even closer to her. The guy seemed to have bathed in cologne, too—the cloying scent was about to choke her.
“I’ve got other plans for the night,” she told him, keeping her voice firm. Plans that involved her getting invited for a personal meet and greet with Drake Archer. Failure wasn’t an option for her. She had to get up there. Access to that private lounge of his was her end-goal for the night.
A desperate woman would do some very, very desperate things.
“No, love, you don’t have other plans.” His hand locked around her wrist. “You’re coming with me.”
That was the moment when Jasmine realized that the guy wasn’t quite as drunk as he’d appeared to be. Swallowing, Jasmine glanced down at her wrist. His fingers had closed around her in a too tight grip. An unbreakable one.
Oh, hell. Had her past just caught up with her?
“Now you don’t want to start a scene here, do you?” he murmured. “Because that could just get embarrassing for you.”
She’d thought her heartbeat was racing before. The frantic beat now shook her whole chest.
“We’re gonna walk out of here,” he said, his mouth right against her ear. “We’ll head to the parking garage, and then you’re gonna play things nice and easy.”
She was? Since when?
But he kept talking. The guy told her, “You’re gonna get in my car, and I’ll be taking you back home.”
Since he was being all chatty, Jasmine could hear the Texas drawl in his words.
That drawl had her muscles locking. Home was the last place she wanted to be, and she sure as heck wasn’t going to play the good girl and just march along with the man.
“You have me confused with someone else,” Jasmine said. She tugged on her wrist. No give at all. “Before this goes too far, you need to let me go. Then you need to walk out of this club. Just—go.”
He grinned. He was a fairly handsome guy, but he creeped her out. “No,” he told her, “I know exactly who you are—and you’re worth way too much money for me to walk away.”
She’d tried to warn the guy. He should have listened to her. Did the fool really think she cared about making a scene? Like embarrassment was an issue for her.
The way Jasmine figured it, she had two options right then. She could scream her head off, but with the music pounding, it was highly doubtful that anyone would hear her—or try to intervene.
So that left option two. Throw the jerk off-guard. He was stronger than her physically—hence the unbreakable grip—but…all attacks didn’t have to involve physical strength. There were lots of other areas in which she excelled.
She’d always been told that she was one hell of a kisser.
Instead of trying to pull away from him, she turned toward him and Jasmine put her mouth right on his. She felt the ripple of surprise that went through him. Obviously, the guy had expected her to fight for her freedom.
He should have read her file more. She was all about doing the unexpected. She leaned into him, arching slightly and, sure enough, she felt his grip on her wrist start to ease.
Your mistake, buddy.
The redhead was kissing the jerk.
What kind of game was she playing? Drake had been about to turn away from the glass when he saw her rise onto her toes and push her mouth against the man’s.
Drake’s hands clenched at his sides. He didn’t know the woman. Didn’t care who she kissed. No, he shouldn’t care.
But I want her.
And if Drake wanted her…
I’ll take her.
He pulled out his phone. “Get the redhead at the bar,” he barked the order. “And—”
She yanked away from the dark-haired stranger’s embrace. Turned on her heel and ran.
Drake’s brows shot up.
The crowd swallowed her almost instantly and Drake saw the fury harden the other man’s face as he surged after her.
“Stop the redhead and the asshole who is following her.” She’d been the only redhead at the bar, and Drake knew his security team would already have her image in front of them.
He couldn’t see her in that crowd. Not even a glimpse of her hair.
But he did notice that the STAFF door to the right of the bar was swinging closed. That door led to the stock room—and to a flight of back stairs that his employees used. He knew exactly where those stairs would take the redhead.
The night had just gotten a little more interesting.
He turned on his heel and decided to give chase.
It wasn’t like he had to even work hard at the chase. Just a few feet outside of his lounge, a private elevator waited for him. That elevator was the only way to access his lounge. Drake pushed a button on the wall, and his elevator immediately opened. When he stepped inside, the mirrored walls tossed his reflection right back at him.
A flick of his hand and a quick press of his fingers had the elevator heading straight down to the parking garage.
At this rate, he just might beat her before she had a chance to escape.
In seconds, the elevator doors were opening again. He took his time strolling down the hallway, and when he reached the end of that small space, he typed in his security code on the keypad. The door opened and Drake found himself in the cavernous parking garage.
It was close to three a.m., and the folks in his club and casino weren’t about to pull it in for the night. Vegas didn’t sleep, and he knew this town was going strong.
He stilled for a moment and heard the fast and frantic pounding of footsteps as someone rushed down the stairs to the right. Leaning back against the stone wall of the garage, Drake crossed his arms over his chest and he waited.
She flew down the stairs. Her hair swirled around her face as she ran out of that stairwell and—
The dark-haired man was right behind her. He grabbed her arm and yanked her back.
The man snarled, “You’re not getting away, Jasmine!”
Drake was in the shadows, and he knew they hadn’t seen him, but he could see the woman’s face clearly—and he didn’t like the fear that flashed across her delicate features.
Women were to be fucked. They were to be enjoyed. They weren’t to be afraid.
They also weren’t to be trusted, but that was another rule he’d learned…
The man’s hands were locked tightly around the woman’s arms, and she was struggling against him.
“You’re making a mistake!” She fired at the guy. “Just stop—”
“Let her go.” Drake stepped from the shadows as his arms fell back to his sides. He hadn’t raised his voice. Just kept it low. A few ladies from his past had told him that he had a low and lethal voice.
What the hell ever.
All Drake knew was that his voice usually got action.
It got action right then, too. The woman gave a yelp, and the man swore.
But the fool didn’t let the lady go.
Drake liked that name.
“This is personal, buddy,” the man snapped at him. “You just need to mind your own business.”
“Oh, but it is my business.” Drake waved a hand toward the parking garage. “My casino, my club, my parking garage. All very much my business.” He cocked his head as he studied his prey. “So when a lady gets accosted at my place, well, you can imagine that tends to piss me off.” He kept his eyes on the man. The guy had dark hair, thinning a bit, a broad forehead, and a too perfect tan. Drake pretty much hated the fool on sight. “Let her go,” Drake ordered, “then get the hell off my property.”
More footsteps pounded in that stairwell. Drake’s gaze lifted just a bit, moving over the man’s shoulder. The security team was right on time.
Swallowing, the guy dropped his hold. “This is a huge mistake,” he began.
Nodding, Drake said, “Yes, it is.”
The redhead quickly made her way to Drake’s side. As she neared, Drake caught the sweet rush of her vanilla scent.
“No!” The man’s face had flushed a dark red. “You don’t know who she is! She’s—”
“Some men just can’t take no for an answer,” the redhead murmured. “You would think when a woman ran away that would be enough of a clue.”
The guy growled and lunged toward her.
The security team locked their arms around him and jerked the idiot right back.
And the redhead sidled even closer to Drake. That vanilla scent was tempting. The lady smelled good enough to eat.
Drake had a very big appetite.
“Get him off my property,” Drake ordered. He pointed at the struggling SOB. “If I ever see you at any of my casinos or clubs again,” and Archer Entertainment was becoming huge, “then you’re going to be sorry.” Because Drake knew too many ways to make a man pay.
He had his own law. His own rules.
The redhead’s hand curled around Drake’s arm. “I-I…thank you.”
The guards hauled away the jerk. But he kept shouting. Dumbass. The man didn’t know when to shut up.
“You’re the one who’ll be sorry!” The words thundered from the dumbass in question. “I’m Wayne Hardin. I’m a bounty—”
Heavy, metal doors swung shut behind him, finally stopping the guy’s snarling words.
The woman stepped in front of Drake. She was about five foot eight, maybe five nine so she had to tilt her head back to stare up at him. This close, he could see that her skin was a light gold, and a faint dusting of freckles scattered across her nose. Her eyes were dark—deep. He hadn’t expected that darkness. Her lips were red and full.
A beauty, no doubt, with her heart-shaped face, sharp cheekbones, and kiss-me lips. Plump, full, and red, those lips begged him to take a bite.
Her body was slender, but curved in all the right places. And her scent…
“Maybe you shouldn’t kiss strangers…” His words came out as a growl. “That’s a real bad habit, princess.”
She nodded, but then said, “Desperate times can call for desperate actions.”
Those sure weren’t the words he’d expected. He leaned toward her.
“You’re Drake Archer.”
“Guilty.” He’d confessed to owning the casino, so her knowing his identity wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. He’d made headlines in the Vegas press when he opened the Archer’s Arrow Casino a month before. He owned four other casinos, but three of them were in Biloxi, Mississippi, and his biggest place was in New Orleans.
He was already jonesing for a trip back to the Big Easy. That place had become home for him.
And I’ll be heading home very soon.
She smiled up at him. Her smile took him off-guard because he hadn’t anticipated the woman’s dimples. Cute, curving dimples that winked on either side of her mouth.
The lady was sexy. She had deep, dark, bedroom eyes. Curves that made him hard.
And…a damn cute smile.
“Thanks for being my hero tonight, Drake Archer.”
He had to laugh at that. “Trust me, I’m not exactly hero material.” He was more used to playing the villain of the piece.
She was still touching him. He was far too aware of her touch. He could actually feel the warmth of her hand through his suit coat. What was up with that?
“Why did you kiss him?” Wait, shit, had he just asked that question?
Her head tilted a little to the right as she studied him. “You were watching me.”
He didn’t reply. She already knew he’d been watching from upstairs. She’d crooked that finger, after all.
And here I am.
His shoulders stiffened as he stepped away from her.
She blinked a few times, appearing a bit lost.
“If you’d wanted to get fucked…” he said, and it wasn’t hard to make his voice cold and unemotional. Plenty of folks said that ice water ran through his veins, not blood. “Then all you had to do was ask.”
Her lips parted in surprise, but she didn’t speak.
Fair enough. Drake gave a little nod. He’d never been the sort to ask twice. He also wasn’t the romancing kind. “You’ll be safe for the rest of the night. My men won’t let that guy get within fifty feet of the Arrow.” But now it was time for him to leave. He’d thought that getting close to her would satisfy his curiosity. He’d been wrong.
Instead of being satisfied, he wanted to learn more about her.
Drake knew that was a definite sign he needed to back off. He eased to the side. Straightened his coat. And took a step forward.
“You’re just…going to leave me now?”
She had a faint accent in her voice. There one second, gone the next. Definitely something from the West. Maybe Texas? There were times when Drake’s voice slipped, too, and he let his southern accent roll out with a hard rumble.
That usually happened when he was angry. Or aroused.
“Head back into the club,” he told her and he didn’t look back as he began to make his way toward the elevator that would take him to his private lounge. “I’ll send orders for the bartender to give you whatever you want—”
“I know what I want.” Her voice was soft. Seductive.
“I-I have to ask, though…is that the way it works?”
His back teeth clenched.
“The ladies you take upstairs to your private room…they all ask?”
Those women knew the rules going in. Sex. Hot. Fast. Hard. No promises. No ties.
Ties were the last thing he wanted.
He turned back to look at her. “You came to this place looking for me.”
She backed up a bit.
He let his lips curl and knew his smile wasn’t going to be reassuring. “Be very careful. You don’t want to play with me.”
He expected her to scurry away then.
But her chin notched into the air. “Maybe I do,” she said and her voice made his cock jerk. Sex and sin—that was what she sounded like just then. Taking her time, she walked toward him. He noticed her shoes then. High, black heels. So she wasn’t as tall as he’d thought.
And those heels were definitely fuck-me shoes. She can keep them on for me, but I don’t want her wearing anything else.
The vanilla scent teased his nose once more. “I came here looking for you.”
Ah, a confession.
“I know you watch from up above, like a king surveying his land.”
He shrugged. “Maybe I just don’t like crowds.” A car horn echoed through the garage.
Why was he still standing there? Why hadn’t he left her already?
Her hand touched his chest.
The heat hit him again, rushing right from her hand to his heart.
And his dick.
Ah, yes, that would be the reason I haven’t left.
“I want to go upstairs with you.” She licked her lips, a sensual glide of her little pink tongue. “I need to go up there.”
He cocked a brow.
“So I’m asking, all right?” Her voice was breathy, and he hesitated. Was that quiver from excitement—like he sure wanted to think?
Unfortunately, Drake was too well-acquainted with fear.
But he offered his arm to her. He saw the quick exhale that she gave. That smile of hers flashed again.
Drake had to reassess then. The smile was disarming with its flashing dimples. But it wasn’t cute, as he’d first thought.
The woman’s smile was a killer.
“You’re making a mistake!” Wayne Hardin snapped as the two goons dragged him out of the casino’s parking garage.
“No, it’s your mistake buddy.” Goon Number One shoved him so hard that Wayne stumbled out onto the street. A taxi missed him by about five inches, and the angry horn had him jerking.
The guards glared at him as Wayne staggered to his feet.
“You heard the boss,” Goon One said. “Stay away from his business.”
And the guy’s business was now Jasmine? This was a headache he didn’t need.
He reached inside his coat.
“Don’t!” The sharp bark came from both guards.
Wayne stilled. “I wasn’t reaching for a weapon. You two already patted me down. You know I’m not armed. I was getting my ID!”
They turned away.
“I’m a bounty hunter! That little redhead who just sucked in your boss—she’s wanted in Texas!”
The door slammed shut behind them.
“Sonofabitch.” Wayne huffed out a hard breath as the lights of Vegas blazed down on him. Bright, blinking lights. So far away from the darkness of his Texas nights. “I hate this town,” he muttered.
He tilted back his head and stared up at the Arrow. Jasmine was in there. Thinking she was all nice and snug. Safe for the night. Safely away from him.
She was dead wrong.
He intended to collect on the bounty that was being offered for her. Giving up wasn’t part of his personality.
Soon enough, she’d be the one tossed into the street. Maybe she thought cuddling close to Drake Archer would offer her some kind of protection.
Think again, sweetheart.
He’d be waiting for her ass to hit the street. And when it did…
You’re mine, Jasmine. He’d take her back to Texas, bound and gagged if necessary.