I LOCKED THE DOOR AFTER ANTHONY LEFT, and then all of my strength slid out of my spine. I sunk down the door until I was sat on the cold tile floor. The screams in my head left little room for thought, but I knew I had to do something. It took a moment for my shaky fingers to retrieve my phone and dial Gage.
“Hello,” he answered, the sound of him steadying me.
“I— Someone just cornered me and—”
“Who? Where are you?” he interrupted, voice sharp. “Where’s Sal? I’m calling him right-the-fuck now.” He dropped the gruff tone, but it his voice strained not completely under control, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It was—”
“Wait a second,” he cut in. “Sal, do you know where she is? —Where in the math building are you, Regan?”
“In some empty classroom. He doesn’t need to come in here.”
“Like hell he doesn’t. You need to show him who it was. Now which classroom?”
“You don’t even know what happened. Stop.” His quick anger and demands were pulling me out of my fog.
“I know this person scared you enough that you called me right away. I want to hear about it, but I want to take care of the fucker first. So tell me, where exactly you are so Sal can find you.”
“I’m not scared.” I hated his accusation, I hated that it was true, but I didn’t want it to be. I rose to my feet. “I was calling because it was about you. It was the same group that spoke to you at the gym the other day.” I wasn’t sure what I could say over the phone.
He released a heavy breath. “Get out of the building, can you do that?”
“Sal’s out front. He’ll bring you here.”
“All right. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Don’t hang up. You stay on this phone till you’re in that car.”
Gage was waiting out back when we pulled up to the club. The sight of him was a relief, but his concern only fed my fears.
He opened my door, eyes flicking over me and pulling me to my feet as he ordered Sal, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ve got words for you.” He closed the door and then wrapped his arms around me, concern thick in his voice, “they weren’t rough with you, were they?”
“No.” I pulled back to look at him. “Were they with you?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “They can be pushy bastards, but it’s only because they’re reaching for anything they can get.” His hands moved up and down my back, creating heat against the cold air. “That’s low of them to question you though. I didn’t expect that, but I should have. They’re fucking scavengers.” He paused then, looking at me. Really looking at me for the first time. “C’mon.” He started to walk us to the club, arm still around me.
“Shouldn’t we talk in the car?” I nodded to his SUV.
His eyes dropped over me. “Yeah, Okay.” He pulled his keys out and hit the switch to turn on his engine and unlock his door. “The club is supposedly clear of devices but…we won’t be interrupted in the car.”
When we were both seated, he turned to me. “Was it Agent Simmons or Greer?”
I shook my head, fiddling with the knobs for the heater. The question of who was the one thing I wasn’t sure I’d share.
“Simmons is dark skin with a big mole by his left eye. Greer’s bald with a big nose.” He was leaning forward to catch my eye. “It wasn’t either of them?”
I shook my head again and shrugged. “No. He didn’t look like that.”
“He? Only one?” At my nod he continued, “And he didn’t tell you his name? What did he look like?”
“It wasn’t about the drugs. This whole time, I thought that was what this club was covering.”
His eyes narrowed. “This club is a way to account for money—All kinds of money—but a lot of it is drugs. You’re not wrong.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wanted to read the truth in him but doubted my ability too. I couldn’t decide what to focus on as I dropped the next line, his hands or his face. My gaze zoned in on his face like a hawk.
“They’re not investigating the money. They’re investigating the girls here. They’re not on visa’s like you said.”
He had no reaction as I spoke, and that scared the hell out of me. His expression melted slow, little lines forming at the corner of his eyes and over his forehead, one by one. “Tell me exactly what was said.”
“They’re investigating a human trafficking ring that crosses boarders. They can’t find a paper trail on the girls at all after they leave the club. They think it’s connected to Shadow. They know you’re not really in charge of the club, they wanted a name of who was.” I listed the offenses, empty, void of emotion
“You didn’t say anything though.” It wasn’t a question, and that gave me a moment of pause. I needed to have the same faith in him. I needed to trust what I felt.
“No, I didn’t. I kept saying I didn’t know anything, but…”
He squeezed my leg, his large palm gliding over my jeans in reassurance. “It’s okay. I know it scared you, but you’re better at covering it than you know.”
His blue eyes calmed me as they met mine, my pounding heart finally slowing. “I don’t know about that.”
“I do. It’s taken me this long to finally read you, and even still it’s hard to do.” His hand slid up to my stomach, and pressed low on it. “Everything’s okay though?”
I closed my eyes, reeling in the last of my panic. I needed to stay calm. His touch centered me, but still the questions swarmed. “I’m fine. But what do you know about all of this?”
“Only what I’ve told you. They come from Russia. They do have visas. I’ve seen the damn paperwork; they get paychecks for Christ sake. And I don’t know anything about Shadow.” He looked straight out his window, at the empty back lot. “Those people are fucking scum. They’ll try and get in your mind, Regan. They’ll feed you bullshit lies, try and press on your weakness to get the information they want. They know about your past, I’d bet on it. That’s all that was, one big mind fuck to get a name from you.”
His hand was still on my stomach, his words seeping in.
“They know I’m pregnant, too.”
“How the fuck?” He pulled his hand away, running it over his head as he looked everywhere besides me, like he could find the answer in the air around us.
“That office has to be bugged. We had someone look into it, but…”
“I’ve been to the doctors. People at school know. They could find out any number of ways.”
“Yeah.” His hand swiped his face. “It doesn’t matter anyways, when I sign over the club on Monday, they have to get all new orders to wire it if they’re going to stay legal.” He looked at me with a slow clench of his jaw. “What did he say about the baby?”
The fire in his eyes was scary, even if I knew it wasn’t truly directed at me. “Just that I should think about it, that this life wasn’t safe for me. That I’m either going to be killed or go to prison.” My hand curled over my stomach in silent prayer. I didn’t want to leave this baby without parents. Thinking of Dexter and Leona gave a slight comfort, at least it wouldn’t go into foster care.
“That’s not going to happen.” He slid his fingers behind my neck, making me look at him. His other hand cupped my cheek, in a gentle touch. “There’s nothing linking you to anything. You won’t go down for my sins. Do you understand? They have nothing on you.”
I wasn’t as confident in that as him, but I nodded.
“Sal’s staying with you from now on. I don’t want these fuckers filling your mind with any more bullshit. What did the person look like?”
I wanted to believe it all bullshit, but I couldn’t dismiss everything. And I couldn’t bring myself to admit who, not with that look in his eyes.
“Gage, it could be true about the girls. You said yourself they’re prostitutes. What’s to stop Alessandra from selling them to someone else? Maybe they don’t directly deal with Shadow, but it might be connected.”
He considered my words, fingers caressing my skin as he slipped a piece of hair behind my ear. His voice was soft when he spoke. “I’ll talk to Viktor directly, see what I can find out. I don’t want you worrying over this. But, I need you to tell me what this guy looked like.”
My stomach ached and muscles strained. Even if Anthony pissed me off, I didn’t want him hurt. Keeping the information wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
“Regan.” Gage broke through my debate. “What are you not telling me?”
When I met his eyes, I knew I couldn’t keep it in, not when I expected him to be honest with me. “Promise me nothing will happen to him.”
“To who?” His face twisted with confusion.
“It was Anthony.”
“Who?” His eyes were slits. “The agent’s name was Anthony?”
He didn’t make the connection, and I almost didn’t say the rest. “Anthony Fields. Do you remember him?”
Recognition transformed his features, morphing from puzzlement to stone cold anger. All the lines in his skin smoothed out, except the ones around his jaw as it clenched. “That cop in Baltimore?” He practically hissed.
I nodded. “Promise me, please.”
“What the fuck Regan? I can’t promise that shit, not if he keeps coming around. He shouldn’t even be on this case, not if he knows you.” He sat back, dangerous emotions rolling off of him. “Is there anything else you’re not telling me?” His chest rose and fell, and he looked like he could breathe fire. “You said he cornered you. He didn’t fucking touch you, did he?”
“No. He didn’t.” I placed my hand on his chest, and his heartbeat pounded under my touch. “Please, it’s like you said, he was just pushing for information. He apologized for not helping with Damien, but he thought he could help—”
“He doesn’t want to help you.” Gage grabbed my hand, holding it in place on his chest. “Don’t fall for that shit. He only wants you to help him. He can’t be very high, probably not even an agent yet. He want’s the information you have. That’s it. Don’t fucking worry about what happens to him, he’s using you.” His voice and grip on my wrist softened. “I love you. You know I’d do anything for you. I wish like hell I could go back and take back what happened. But I’m helping you, not him. Tell me you know that.”
Uncertainty was clear in his eyes, and it gripped my heart. I preferred his anger over that.
“I do.” I leaned in for a kiss, wanting to wipe away the insecurity. I paused as our lips grazed one another. “I love you, too. You’re the only one I count on. And I know we’ll always be there for each other.”
“Always.” His lips enveloped mine, sealing in our bond, our oath to each other.
“I’ve got to talk to Sal, and then we can go. Wait in here for me.” He turned his keys in the knob, swinging open the office door.
I paused as I stepped through. Cherry and Ian jumped away from each other, nearly the desk length between them. Ian had his back to us, arms moving to buckle his pants.
“Shit, do you ever knock?” Cherry snapped. Her fingers adjusted her short skirt. Otherwise she was completely composed, all signs of surprise gone as she challenged me.
“She doesn’t need to.” Gage cut me off as he stepped into the room, moving in front of me. He crossed his arms and inclined his head toward the door. “Now get out.”
Ian turned around then, his button up shirt un-tucked and his cheeks flushed with a pink blush.
“We’re going.” He grabbed cherry’s arm, avoiding looking towards Gage or me.
“Oh grow a pair.” She pulled her arm from him.
I almost laughed, but she had no hesitation meeting Gage’s eyes.
“It’s only your damn office for a couple more days, so this is your last time kicking me out. Enjoy it.” She taunted him with a challenging smile as she walked past.
“Watch your mouth.” He reached out in a flash, griping her upper arm, pulling her back. “I’ll still be in charge.”
“Oh.” Her smile only widened, and her eyes slid to his hand on her bare skin and then back up to him.
He dropped her, taking a step back, a breath before I almost shoved him away. As it was, poison pulsed through my heart, a base hatred for her and whatever was between them burning my chest.
“You both work for me, that doesn’t change next week.”
“I know. Come on Cherry.” Ian pushed her towards the door. “Why do you always have to say shit?” He was speaking low to her as I moved to let them pass.
“Wait, Ian. We need to talk.”
I couldn’t read his tone. It was direct, but I hope I only imagined the anger running under it.
Either way, everything was crashing around me. I didn’t want him talking to Ian about Cherry, but I didn’t want him talking about Anthony either. I needed to talk to him before I choked.
“Oh, hell no.” Cherry spun back around, walking into the office. “You’re going to include me in whatever you’re talking to him about. Especially if little miss minute gets to be part of it.”
“Excuse me?” I snapped. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Her wicked smile was back, red lips stretching.
But Gage stepped in front of me, blocking her from site. “Show some respect.”
“Fine.” She laughed. “Calm down, I was only stating facts. She’s been in here for all of a minute, and Ian couldn’t run this club on his own. He needs me. So if this talk has to do with the club, then I need to hear it.”
I held my breath as Gage sighed, looking between all of us.
“She’s got a point.” Ian shrugged.
I bit my tongue to keep from speaking, anger shaking my muscles. I needed to see how this would play out.
“Fine. Close the door.” Gage didn’t even look at me as he walked to his desk.