Blood dripped into her eyes. Pain rolled through her body, and she tried to fight it, tried to break free, but she couldn’t.
The metal had twisted around her. It held her in a grip too tight and too hard, and every move she made just caused her to hurt even more.
She screamed for help, but no one was there to save her.
The rain poured down, pelting through the broken windshield. Her car had rolled, again and again, down the incline. Would anyone from the road even be able to see her?
“I’m here!” She screamed again.
Every part of her body hurt. Broken glass was all around her. The blood and rain mixed together on her face.
She begged for help until her voice broke.
Until the rain stopped.
Until the pain finally stopped.
There was nothing left, nothing but the darkness.
It was in that darkness that she heard his voice.
“I’m here…I’ve got you…”
And when she heard him, she was afraid.
Skye Sullivan stared up at the building before her. It shot high into the sky, its massive windows gleaming in the light. There were too many floors for her to count. Looking more like a fortress than an office, the place spoke of power.
And money. A lot of it.
“Miss?” The doorman eyed her with a hint of concern in his dark eyes.
Probably because she was standing in the middle of the street, gawking up at the place. Skye gave a quick shake of her head, pulled her coat a bit closer around her, and hurried inside that fortress. Getting out of that icy Chicago air was a relief for her.
Another man waited behind the gleaming desk in the lobby. She glanced to the left and the right, and Skye nervously noted the security cameras that followed her every move.
Cautiously now, she approached the desk. “I, um, I’m looking for Trace Weston.”
The man, in his early twenties and sporting a stylish blue suit, raised his brows at her. “Do you have an appointment?”
Not exactly. She’d barely gathered the courage to actually head into this place. Twice that morning, she’d turned around and almost gone back to her home.
I need him.
Skye straightened her shoulders. “No, I don’t have an appointment.”
His eyes narrowed.
She rushed on, saying, “My name is Skye Sullivan, and I-I’m an…old friend of his.” Okay, so that part that wasn’t exactly the truth.
But she was desperate. No, more than that. She was scared.
When she’d done a search looking for private detectives in the area, Weston Securities had immediately popped up on her computer screen. As soon as she’d seen the name, Skye’s whole body had tensed.
Trace Weston. Some men left a mark on a woman, a mark that went far beneath the skin.
Trace had marked her years before.
His company was way out of her price range, Skye got that. The lobby even smelled expensive. And, after the accident, pretty much everything was out of her range, but she didn’t have a choice.
She had to get Trace to help her.
Besides, they had been friends once.
Before they’d been lovers. Before everything had gone to hell.
The guy in the fancy suit looked down at his computer. “I don’t think you understand just how busy Mr. Weston’s schedule is, ma’am. If you’d like to speak with one of the junior associates here, I’m sure that we can find someone available.”
Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. A junior associate. Right. Well, that was certainly better than nothing.
The phone on the man’s desk rang. “Excuse me,” he murmured as he reached for the phone.
Skye nodded. Her cheeks were burning. Had she really thought that she could get Trace to help her? That she could just walk into this place and he’d be there for her? After all the time that had passed, she’d be lucky if the guy even remembered her.
If only I could have forgotten him.
“Y-yes, sir. Right now.” A sharp note of nervousness had entered the man’s voice.
Skye glanced back at him as he hurriedly put the phone down. His eyes, a warm gray, had come back to her. Now there was some definite curiosity in his stare. “You’re to go right up, Ms. Sullivan.” He pushed a clipboard toward her. “Sign in first, then I’ll take you to the elevator.”
Her gaze slid to the nearest security camera. Tension tightened her shoulders as she scribbled her name across the page. Then Skye hurried toward the elevators on the right. Don’t limp. Don’t. Take slow steps. Nice and slow.
“Not that elevator.” He caught her elbow and steered her to the left. “This one.” He pulled a keycard from his pocket. Swiped it across the elevator’s panel. The doors opened almost instantly, and he guided Skye inside. “Go up to the top floor. Mr. Weston will be waiting for you.”
But Mr. Weston hadn’t even known she was coming to the building. “I don’t understand—” Skye began.
The doors slid closed.
Her hands trembled as the elevator shot up. The elevator’s walls were made of glass and she turned, glancing out at the view of the city.
A lot could change for a person in ten years. You could go from having absolutely nothing…to having everything.
Or you could go from everything…to nothing.
The elevator slowed. Skye turned back toward the doors. She took a deep breath. Then those doors slid open.
Her shoes sank into lush carpet as she stepped out of the elevator.
She glanced over at the pretty blonde woman who’d rushed toward her.
The blonde smiled. “This way, please.”
Trace had seen her on the video cameras. That was the only explanation. He’d seen her, and he’d actually remembered her.
Well, you were always supposed to remember your first, weren’t you?
He’d been her first. Once upon a time, he’d been her everything.
The blonde opened a gleaming, mahogany door. “Ms. Sullivan is here, sir.”
Don’t limp. Skye stepped inside the office and saw him.
The man who’d haunted her.
The man who’d taught her about lust and loss.
He sat behind a massive desk. He’d leaned back in his chair, and his head was tilted to the right as his eyes—still the bluest that she’d ever seen—swept over her body. His hair was midnight black, cut to perfectly frame the strong planes of his face.
Handsome wasn’t a word that could be used to describe Trace. It never had been. Sexy. Dangerous. Those were words for him.
The door shut behind Skye, sealing her inside the office with him.
Trace rose from his seat. He came toward her, his stride slow and certain. With every step that he took, she tensed, her body helpless to do otherwise.
“H-hello, Trace.” She hated that stupid break in her voice. Trace made her nervous. Always had.
He stopped in front of her. He stood at several inches over six feet, while she barely skimmed five feet three. Skye tilted her head back so that she could meet his stare.
“It’s been a long time,” Trace said, the words a deep, dark rumble. His voice went perfectly with the rock hard body and the sexy face—a voice that a woman could imagine in the darkness.
She swallowed because her throat was suddenly dry. “Yes, it has.” Ten years and three months. Not that she’d counted.
That assessing gaze of his slid down her body once more. There was an awareness in his stare that she hadn’t expected. A heat that made her remember too many things.
He was close enough to touch. Close enough for her to smell the crisp, masculine scent that clung to him.
His nostrils flared, as if he were catching her scent, too.
“You look good, Skye.” Again, that heat was in his stare. A heat that said he knew her intimately.
She wished her heartbeat would slow down.
“But you’re not here for a friendly chat, are you?” And he stepped away from her. He waved to the open chair near his desk and returned to his seat.
“We’ve never really been the friendly chat kind,” she said softly as she eased into the leather chair.
She didn’t take off her coat. She just pulled it closer to her.
A faint furrow appeared between his brows. “No, we weren’t, were we? More the hot sex type.”
Her lips parted. He had not just said that to her.
His faint smile said that he had.
“I’m not here for that, either.” She’d been wrecked after her last go round with Trace.
He leaned back in his chair. The leather groaned beneath him. “We’ll get to that…”
Uh, no, they wouldn’t. She wasn’t ready to feel that burn again.
He tapped his chin. “You’re not here for pleasantries, you’re not here for sex, then why have you come looking for me?”
This was where she’d have to beg. Because there was no way she had enough money in her account to cover his services. Not with the guy sporting this high rise building and looking like he’d just walked off the cover of GQ. How things have changed. “Someone is watching me.”
He stilled. The heat banked in his eyes as his whole expression instantly became guarded. “And what makes you so sure of that?”
“Because I can feel him.” Wait, that sounded crazy, didn’t it? When she’d gone to the cops, they’d sure looked at her as if she were crazy. You couldn’t feel a stalker. So they said.
Trace wasn’t speaking.
So she did the talking, saying quickly, “I know someone has been watching me, okay? When I go to my studio, when I go out at night…” A tenseness would slip over her. An awareness that was instinctive.
“You think someone is following you.”
He wasn’t believing her any more than the cops had. “I think,” she stressed the word back to him as her hands clenched, “that someone has been in my house. Things are rearranged. They aren’t where I put them. My doors are locked but someone has been getting in.”
Now he leaned forward. “What’s been rearranged?”
His piercing stare stayed on her face.
“Underwear,” she whispered. “Some panties are missing. Some…some are left on my bed.”
Yes, that was exactly how she felt. “Cops aren’t buying my feelings. They don’t see any signs of a break-in at my apartment. And they think I just lost my laundry.”
But she knew something else was happening.
She licked too dry lips. “This…this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
His hands had flattened on his desk.
“When I was in New York…” That seemed like a life-time away. “The same thing was happening before my accident. Someone would get into my apartment.” At first, the whole thing had started harmlessly enough. Just with flowers. “He started by leaving flowers in my dressing room.” She’d gone into her dressing room after a performance and found them waiting for her. No note. Just the flowers.
Trace waited for her to continue.
Her chest ached as she said, “The next time I found the flowers, they were in my apartment. My locked apartment.”
A muscle flexed along his jaw. “And you’re sure the flowers weren’t just a gift from a lover?”
“I don’t have a lover.” She shook her head. “Not then. Not now.”
What she had was someone who was terrifying her. A shadow that seemed to follow her wherever she went. “I came here because I was hoping that one of your agents might be able to help me. That you could assign someone to follow-up and just see what’s happening.”
His gaze seemed to bore into her. She’d always felt like Trace saw too deeply when he looked at her.
But she couldn’t look away. “The police won’t help me. I was hoping that you could.” Skye kissed her pride good-bye. When this much fear was involved, there was no room for pride. She had secrets that she wasn’t telling him, not yet. “Please, Trace. I need you.”
“You have me.” Said instantly.
Her breath eased out. “Thank you.” Tell him about the money. “Maybe we can—we can work out some kind of payment plan—”
“Screw the money.” He rose from his desk again. Stalked toward her. Her head tilted back and her hair slid over her arm as she looked up at him.
He reached for her hand. Pulled her to her feet. At his touch—just that one touch—awareness poured through her. Heat flushed her cheeks. Memories tightened her body. That was the way it had always been between them. One touch and—
“It’s still there,” Trace gritted out as his hold tightened on her hand. “And we’ll be getting to that, soon enough.”
The dark words were a promise.
“But right now, I want to find out what the hell is going on in your life.”
So did she.
Skye Sullivan. Skye Fucking Sullivan. The girl who’d starred in every teenage fantasy that he’d ever had. The woman who’d made him realize just how dark and wild lust could burn.
She’d come back to him. Walked straight into his building. Into his life.
He’d seen her image on the security screen. One look, and everything had changed.
This time, things would end differently for them. He’d never had his fill of Skye.
This time, she needs me.
They stepped outside of his building. The sounds of the city instantly filled his ears—horns, voices, the backfire of engines. Skye eased away from him, heading for the cab at the corner of the street.
He caught her arm and pulled her right back against him. “We’ll take my car.” He’d already called for his driver. The sleek, black ride was waiting to the right. The driver—who doubled as one of Trace’s guards—held the back door open for them.
“We’ll be heading to Skye’s apartment,” Trace murmured to Reese Stokes.
Skye hesitated, then quickly rattled off the address.
Reese nodded. Reese had been with Trace for over five years now, and Trace trusted the man implicitly.
Skye slid into the vehicle first, and when she did, her skirt lifted, revealing a silken expanse of leg covered in nylon.
Once upon a time, Skye had enjoyed wearing thigh-highs. He’d bought them for her. Because he’d loved the feel of them against her skin.
She disappeared into the car.
Eyes narrowing, memories swirling through his mind, Trace followed her. The door shut, sealing them inside. The privacy shield was already in place, completely blocking them from Reese’s scrutiny.
The car pulled away from the curb.
“I thought one of your agents would handle this. I mean, you’re the boss.” Her words came a little too quickly. She’d always done that. Spoken fast when she was nervous.
It’s good that I still make her nervous.
“I’m sure you don’t have time to spend on me.”
On the contrary. He slid back into the seat next to her, making sure that their shoulders brushed. “You’re not going back to New York.”
Her head jerked toward him. Her eyes—deep, dark green—met his. There was gold in her eyes, buried in the green. When she was aroused, the gold burned hotter.
And when she was aroused, her cheeks flushed, her fuck-me lips trembled, and a moan would slip from her lips.
Skye Sullivan. Porcelain perfect. So delicate that he’d once worried his passion might bruise her.
He still worried because the things he wanted from her…
I’m not a boy any longer.
He’d already held back with her for too long.
Her dark hair fell down her shoulders, long and silken. When she danced, she kept her hair pinned up, making her cheekbones look even sharper.
When she danced…
She made him ache.
“There’s nothing for me in New York any longer.” Her voice was stilted. Not Skye. Skye spoke with humor and life. But when she’d come into his office, finally come back to him, there had been fear in her voice—and in her eyes. “I was in an…accident.”
“I know.” The story had been all over the news. The prima ballerina who’d been trapped in the wreckage of her car on a storm filled night. She’d danced for thousands, she’d lit up the stages in New York.
And she’d barely survived that crash.
He forced air into his lungs. Don’t think about it. She’s here.
“I’ve had physical therapy on my leg.” Said with grim pride as her chin—slightly pointed—came into the air. “I can dance, just not like…not like before.” She gave a little shake of her head. “The stage won’t be for me any longer.”
“That’s why you came home?”
Home. The only home he’d ever had—it had been with her.
Two foster kids. Tossed through the system again and again. He’d met her when he was seventeen. She’d been fifteen.
“That’s why I came back to Chicago,” she agreed, voice husky. “I’m saving money to open a studio. I’ll teach here. I can still do that.”
Her dancing had gotten her out of poverty. Into the bright lights of studios and stages in New York. Her dancing had given her a new life.
And taken her from his.
“The money is a problem.” She wasn’t looking at him anymore. He wanted her eyes on his.
He leaned toward her. Caught her hand.
That made her gaze fly right back to his. “I’ll find a way to pay you,” she told him. “I can do it, just give me some time.”
His going rate—for his newest junior agents, not for his personal services because he didn’t go into the field any longer—was three hundred an hour. “We’ll work it out.”
He had plenty of plans for her.
His fingers threaded through hers. His hand swallowed hers. His skin was rough and dark, tanned from the time he spent in the sun. Her hand was pale, almost fragile. So very breakable.
Hadn’t he always thought that about her? From the first moment he’d seen her, when he’d rushed into that room, hearing her scared cries…
Don’t, please don’t!
She’d been his to save then.
“What are you thinking about?” Skye whispered.
“The way it used to be.”
Her lashes were long. Her dark green eyes were so sexy. Her breath slipped out a little too quickly. “I wasn’t sure you’d even remember me.”
Only every damn minute. There were some things a man could never forget.
“You should have come to me sooner.” He hated to think of her out there, afraid.
“The last time we spoke,” her voice seemed to stroke right over him, “you told me to get the hell out of your life. Coming back wasn’t easy.”
The car slowed.
His jaw had locked. You’re not getting away so easily this time.
“I think we’re here,” she said and tugged on her hand.
He didn’t release her. “You said you didn’t have a lover.” Good. He didn’t want to think of her with some other bastard.
Her gaze held his.
“You will, Skye.”
She shook her head. “Trace…”
His name was a husky murmur from her. Denial and need all tied together.
Her lips were too close. She smelled too good. Sweet vanilla. Good enough to damn well eat.
He took her mouth. Not gently. Not softly. Because he’d never been that kind of guy. Trace knew he wasn’t the tender lover type.
He’d fought for every single thing that he had. He’d keep fighting.
His tongue thrust into her mouth. She tasted even sweeter than she smelled. Her lips were soft and lush, and she was kissing him back. A low moan rose in her throat, and her tongue slid lightly against his.
He’d been the one to teach her how to kiss.
And to fuck.
He deepened the kiss, needing more, so much more from her than he could get right then. She’d come to him because she was afraid, but he wasn’t interested in her fear. He wanted her passion. He wanted her.
She pulled back. Her lips were wet and red from his mouth.
His addiction. The one that he’d never been able to ditch.
No matter how much money he got, no matter how many women came into his bed, Skye was the one he wanted, the one that he would have.
There was a price for everything in this world. He knew that lesson well.
Skye would pay a price.
So would he.
It was a good thing he could afford that price this time.
She nearly jumped from the car when he let her go. He exited slowly, far too aware of the ache for her—and of the arousal that wasn’t going away.
Sunlight glinted down on him. Early spring, but still cold because that was the way of his city. He ignored the chill and stared up at the apartment complex. Older, in a more rundown area just outside of the city.
When she’d been in New York, her place had been so much bigger—so close to the lights of Broadway.
The hospital bills had taken a lot of her money. He knew that. He knew so much more than she realized.
“Stay here,” he told Reese and then Trace followed Skye to the building. Security at her apartment was non-existent. Anyone could walk right in…
And they did.
“I’m on the third floor,” Skye said.
The top floor.
“The elevator is getting fixed right now, so…” She turned for the stairs.
He didn’t move. “Can your leg handle that climb?”
Her shoulders snapped up. Ah, there it was. Her fierce pride. One of the things that had so drawn him to her. “Yes. I can handle it.” And she didn’t look back as she started on the stairs. But he noticed she clung a little too tightly to the banister.
He followed behind her, easily closing the distance that separated them, and he stayed one stair behind her, all the way up.
His gaze noted everything. The peeling paint on the walls. The lights that flickered. The lights that weren’t on at all.
Then they were on the third floor. There were three other doors on that floor, but she took him to apartment 301. He stopped her before she could put her key in the lock. Trace bent, inspecting the old, golden lock. No scratch marks to indicate that someone had tried to pick it. There were no signs of tampering at all.
He eased back. She unlocked the door. It opened with a groan of sound, the hinges ancient and obviously in need of oil. Skye hurried inside, stumbling just a little, before she flipped on the lights.
The apartment was small but so very Skye. Bright colors lit the walls, comfortable furniture filled the interior. The curtains were pulled back near the windows, letting the light spill inside.
The place smelled of her.
He advanced toward the windows. The fire escape led all the way up to her floor. The windows were locked there, and, again, he didn’t see any sign of tampering.
“I know what you’re doing.” She stood a few feet behind him. “The detective—Griffin—didn’t find any sign of a break-in, either. But I’m telling you, someone has been here.”
“Did I say that I didn’t believe you?” He glanced back at her.
Skye shook her head.
“Take me to your bedroom.”
She rocked back a step.
“That’s where he goes, doesn’t he?” Trace didn’t let any emotion enter his voice. Now wasn’t the time for emotion.
Skye spun away and walked down the narrow hallway. She opened another door. “It’s…here.”
He brushed past her and stepped inside the small room. The bed was wooden, an old four-poster. A chest of drawers—one that had been painted a bright blue—waited to the left. A matching dresser stood to the right.
Nothing looked disturbed in her room. “When is the last time you think he was here?”
“Last night,” she said as her gaze went to the bed. “When I came home last night, my—my underwear was left on the bed.”
He stared at the bed.
“I didn’t leave them there,” she continued, voice tight. “I know I didn’t. Someone is playing some kind of game with me.”
“I don’t think it’s a game.” Trace glanced away from the bed and back at her. Skye hadn’t moved away from the door. “I think someone is stalking you.” He paused. “Someone like this can be very, very dangerous.”
Her eyes were on his.
“To break into your home, to follow you…” He lifted his hand and brushed back the hair that had slipped over her shoulder. “It sounds like the guy is fixated on you.”
“You’ll find him, though?”
“I will. My agents will watch your place. No one will get in here again.”
Her breath whispered out. “Thank you.”
“I’ll get better locks on your doors and windows.” He’d do a hell of a lot more than that. “You’ll be safe here.”
She nodded quickly.
“You’d be safer…” He had to say it. “If you came back home with me.”
Her eyes widened. “Trace…”
“It’s not like it would be the first time, Skye.”
She retreated. Her back hit the door frame. “No. I didn’t come to you…for that.”
That. The storm of lust and need and want that had consumed them before.
The uncontrolled desire had almost destroyed them both.
“I need your help, Trace, but that’s all.”
It wasn’t all he wanted. But he’d give her this moment. Soon enough, she’d be coming to him.
I know her weaknesses.
Trace inclined his head. “Then I’ll get your protection started. It’s the least I can do for my old…friend.” Once more, his body brushed past hers. The tension rolled off her as he headed into the hallway.
“We were, once.”
Her voice halted him.
“We were friends before we were anything more.” Her words were soft, like a whispered confession.
Yes, they had been friends, but they’d lost that, long ago.
He pulled out his phone even as he headed for the front door. As soon as the front door closed, he demanded, “I want agents at Skye Sullivan’s apartment.” The address came from him as a curt bark. “New locks. A video camera and alarm inside.” She didn’t even have an alarm. “I want a team watching the place.” He remembered the way her hand had gripped the banister. “And I want the fucking elevator fixed.”
His orders would be obeyed. His staff jumped at his command. He wasn’t the abandoned, penniless kid anymore. He had the power now.
Trace glanced over his shoulder at Skye’s closed apartment door.
He had the power, and he was going to use it.
The dream came again. It snuck up on him when he was tired or when she got into his mind too much.
He found himself back in that old house. The one with the roof that sagged. With carpets that had been worn bare.
Another home. Another place.
His first night there.
The voice had called out to him.
He’d been on his feet before he’d thought twice. On his feet and on his way to her.
The dream took over.
His fist shoved open the wooden door, revealing a small bedroom. He hadn’t seen that one when they’d brought him in to the house earlier that day. Two people were on the bed. The boy—his new “brother” Parker. The other was the girl…the one with the long hair and the sad eyes.
The pretty girl who’d been too shy to speak to him before.
But he was sure her voice had been the one calling to him, begging, “Please, don’t…”
Only she wasn’t speaking anymore. Wasn’t crying out, not pleading.
Because Parker had his hand over her mouth.
“What the hell are you doing?” Trace demanded.
“Get out, man, get out!” Parker snapped back, but he kept his voice low.
So his parents wouldn’t hear?
Trace’s gaze shot to the girl. Tears leaked from her eyes. Parker had one hand over her mouth, and one of his hands pinned her small wrists to the bed.
Rage pushed through Trace. “Get off her, now.”
“Get out,” Parker said again, “or I’ll tell my parents to ship your ass out of here. This is my house, I say what—”
He didn’t get to say anything else. Trace knocked the guy off her. He drove his fist into Parker’s face, again and again. Bones broke. Blood spurted. Trace kept hitting him.
“Stop! You’re going to kill him!” Her voice. Her hands on him.
Trace’s eyes flew open as the dream—his past—vanished.
His hands were clenched into fists.
Skye needed him again.
I won’t let her down.