Hellbent

Book Three in The Hellbound Brotherhood

She thought her tormenter was dead…Find out why New York Times bestseller Maya Banks hails McKenna’s books as “A non-stop thrill ride…”

He couldn’t forget her…

Famous bad boy DJ Anton Trask stays the hell out of other people’s business. He learned that lesson long ago and paid for it in blood. But when the gorgeous, prickly Fiona Garrett shows up at one of his nightclubs asking for his help, he can’t say no, and it throws his inner world into chaos. He and Fiona grew up together at GodsAcre, a remote doomsday cult in the mountains. She was only fifteen when he helped her escape that hellhole, but she’s all grown up now. Anton hates to lose control, but Fiona’s direct gray gaze, her soft red lips and her gorgeous body make his heart race and his temperature rise.

Pursued by a ghost…

Fiona Garrett is on the run. Brutal killers are looking for her, and she doesn’t understand why. All she knows it that it must tie back to GodsAcre and the people who died there years ago. She hates asking Anton for protection once again—she owes him her life already—but he’s the only person who might believe her. Still, Fiona is not prepared for the effect that Anton has on her senses. His big muscular body, the hypnotic glitter of his silvery eyes, the controlled, masterful power he exudes…it sparks a desire inside her that she’d never imagined—and she can’t control the blaze.

Anton just wants to leave GodsAcre and its painful memories in the past, but they have to face it down to save Fiona—and as danger ignites all around them, all he can do is keep her close.

And the closer she gets, the less he ever wants to let her go…

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Chapter One

Hellbound Nightclub

Seattle, WA

The lightshow that accompanied the first set in the nightclub downstairs sliced like a razor straight into Anton’s aching head, but he didn’t allow himself to close his eyes or turn his head.

Don’t flinch. Only pussies flinch from pain. Jeremiah’s harsh, drill sergeant voice echoed in his mind.

Get the fuck out of my head, old man. You’re dead and gone.

The past had no hold on him. He repeated that to himself often. Most of the time, it was true.

It didn’t feel true today. Going back to Shaw’s Crossing for his foster father Otis’s funeral last week had stirred up all the old, toxic memories in his mind. He’d left the place at the first opportunity, right after the funeral. So had his youngest brother, Mace. But not Eric, his middle brother. Eric had lingered in town, all hung up on a woman there. He’d been madly in love with her seven years before, but things had ended badly. A total clusterfuck. Eric had barely survived it.

But had he learned his lesson? Nope, not Eric. He was drawn to Demi Vaughan like a moth to a flame. He just couldn’t wait to self-immolate.

Eric had gotten himself all wound up with Demi again last week, and then he and Demi had proceeded to almost get themselves killed by a band of murderous thugs up at the moldering ruins of GodsAcre, the long-defunct doomsday cult in the mountains where they’d been raised. It was a miracle they were still alive at all.

None of it made any sense, but according to Eric, they had to go back to that godawful place and figure out what happened before more people died. According to Eric, GodsAcre was their responsibility. Their property. Their sacred charge.

Damn. Eric had always been afflicted with a pain-in-the-ass hero complex, but Anton was not so afflicted. Why the hell should saving the town of Shaw’s Crossing be their job? What had that place ever done but relentlessly kick their asses?

He wouldn’t abandon his brother, of course. He’d go back and offer what help he could. But the whole thing made him so fucking tense, his teeth were grinding.

He stood by the viewing window that covered the entire wall of his private office and stared down at the gyrating crowd below, and mused upon the young DJ on stage doing the opening set. The kid had talent. He was young and green, but he could instinctively manipulate a crowd. It was still early, but the dance floor was already packed.

A nearer source of light assaulted his eyes as the door to his office opened. Nate Murphy, his head of security, leaned inside. “Anton,” he called. “The hot redhead’s back at it again. She says—”

“I said to get rid of her,” Anton snarled.

Icy silence followed his words. Anton turned and saw Nate lounging casually against the doorframe, just waiting. He appeared to be relaxed, but his eyes were hard.

“You get a free one today,” Nate said. “One free one. Just because you’ve been bereaved, and it’s been a weird week for you. But I am not your fucking butler.”

Anton blew out a sharp sigh. “Yes,” he said tightly. “Message received.”

The two men gazed at each other. Anton lifted his hands. “So?” he said, with deliberate calm. “About the redhead? You were saying?”

“Yeah, her. She had a personal message for you.”

“Don’t they all.”

Nate’s face stayed impassive. “She says her name is Fiona Garrett. And she says that she’s in trouble. Ring a bell?”

Anton stood there, mind totally blank. Shocked stupid.

Fiona.

The heavy beat from downstairs made the building throb dully. The way a wound did when the painkillers started wearing off. He couldn’t seem to breathe.

Nat’s eyes narrowed. “I guess that answers my question. Is everything OK?”

“Fiona?” Anton repeated, the name seeming to stick in his throat like a rock. “You’re sure she said Fiona Garrett?”

“I’m sure. What’s up with her? She pregnant? Do you owe her money? Does she want to break your kneecaps? Does she intend to sue you or shoot you or castrate you?”

Anton shook his head. “I haven’t seen her in years.”

Nate’s puzzled frown deepened. “Dude. You do not look OK. Is there something I need to know about this girl?”

“No,” he said. “It’s old stuff. Ancient history. We grew up together. In the mountains.”

“You mean, she’s from GodsAcre?” Nate’s eyes widened. “Holy shit!”

“Yeah.” Anton strode over to the bank of security monitors on the wall. “Where is she now?”

Nate pointed at one of them. “She’s waiting by the staircase near the back bar.”

Anton leaned toward the camera feed Nate had indicated. It was the girl they had told him about before. The hot one who’d asked for a private meeting with him earlier.

As his celebrity had grown, he’d gotten accustomed to the sex continually on offer. It got boring sometimes, but it was convenient. When he felt the urge, he barely had to reach out his hand. And with a minimum of mental acrobatics, he managed not to feel guilty about it. They came to him begging to be used. Sometimes he obliged them.

Two things he made sure of. One, any woman he fucked understood that it started and ended there. Two, any woman he fucked walked out of his presence weak-kneed with sexual satisfaction. He made it absolutely worth their while. It was a point of pride.

When he saw the redhead, he hadn’t seen her face. He’d been tempted by the long legs, high-riding breasts with tight nipples poking out the stretchy fabric of her dress. In those spike-heeled boots, she’d only be a few inches shorter than his six-foot-three frame.

Plus. He liked that long red hair. And the freckles that usually came with it.

He’d thought about having her brought to him. Imagined fingering her into whimpering readiness. Making her come repeatedly before he bent her over the big desk in his soundproofed lair, her pussy hot and slick and utterly primed.

He’d have her keep those silver boots on while he put it to her from behind. Deep and hard.

But no. Shaw’s Crossing and Otis’s funeral and that vicious attack on Eric had left a lingering bitter taste in his mouth. He was bad-tempered and ugly and not in complete control of himself. Best not to fuck anyone in that mental state. Bad things could happen.

He was sick of drama.

The redhead’s back was to him in the camera, offering an amazing view of a world-class ass. Her back was straight and upright. The long, wild mane of fiery hair looked right, but he couldn’t see her face.

“Who’s closest to her?” he asked.

Nate muttered into his Bluetooth. “Wong is close,” he said, after a moment.

“Have him ask her to look up at the camera. I need to see if it’s really her.”

Nate’s eyes widened, but he relayed the message without comment. Jim Wong, one of his security experts, entered the camera’s view, a hulking Asian man, immensely tall and broad, with a thick neck, a goatee and a long ponytail hanging down the back of his leather jacket. He approached the redhead, spoke into her ear and politely gestured toward the video camera mounted on the wall.

The girl’s long hair swung out around her like a cape as she turned to look at him. Her big, bright eyes were painted up with smudgy black, blazing and intense. He couldn’t make out the color in the camera, but he remembered it perfectly. Stormy slate-gray on the outside of the iris, fading to light gray and then a sunburst of amber gold right around the pupil. Amber that matched her hair and her freckles. Fi had been covered with freckles.

He stared into her eyes. Their brightness sparked a restless, uneasy stirring inside him. Lust, fear, all mixed together, way down deep.

Yeah, that was Fi. There was no mistaking defensive, screw-you-too look in her eyes. The sexy shape of her full mouth. She was no longer the skinny waif with the thick red braid. She was taller now, still lean and slender, but filled out. She looked lithe and strong. Her lips were painted hot red.

She faced the camera head on, with an aggressive, wide-legged stance like a comic book gunslinger. A glittering belt of crystal studded links hung low on her hips. She stuck out her chest, hands on her hips, elbows out. Staring him down.

After a minute or two, she lifted her hand, fluttered her fingers at him, and blew him a kiss. Her straight dark eyebrows were arched high. As if she could see right through the camera, all the way to where he stood, frozen and dithering.

What are you waiting for? You scared? Of me? Awww.

What the fuck was she doing here? Tonight of all nights? He was still all wound up about what had happened to Eric in Shaw’s Crossing. Dealing with Fiona would put him right over the top.

Besides Anton and his two brothers, Fiona was the only other survivor of the lethal shitstorm that was their childhood. Everyone developed his or her own fucked up coping mechanisms for dealing with massive trauma. Evidently Fiona’s had been to morph into a drop dead gorgeous, man-killing femme fatale.

Damn. There were worse strategies.

“Tell Wong to bring her up,” Anton said.

He turned to the viewing window, checking his own reflection before he could stop himself. Thirteen years had gone by. He’d changed. Last time Fiona saw him, he’d been seventeen. No tats. His hair a shaggy, dirt-blond mane. He’d looked very different.

His current bad boy DJ vibe was edgy and hard. Buzzed off hair, designer jacket hanging open to display the tattoo art all over his shirtless chest and flaunt the eight-pack abs. His professional look was carefully cultivated, and definitely not for everyone.

Nate didn’t miss a trick, goddamn the man. He caught Anton checking his reflection and snorted under his breath as he turned to the door.

“Smile, loverboy,” he said. “I’ll tell you if you have spinach in your teeth.”

“Fuck you, man.” Anton slammed the door after him, cutting off Nate’s laughter.

###

Fake it till you make it, Fi. That’s what we all do. Don’t think you’re so damn special. Imagine they’re all naked. Everyone feels scared and awkward. Not just you.

That was her cousin Patti’s standard lecture from the old days, when she was teaching Fiona how to navigate the “normal” world after her escape from GodsAcre.

She’d tried to practice Patti’s advice, but it hadn’t been much comfort then. Nor was it now. Every thought of Patti caused intense pain.

Focus, damn it. Fiona followed the burly Asian guy up the stairs to the lofted space above, grimly intent on keeping her ankles from wobbling in her ridiculous boots. She’d chosen them for the girls-gone-wild sexbot vibe, but they practically crippled her. If she needed to fight or run, she’d be fucked.

And if just staring into a video camera that might have Anton Trask at the other end made her knees turn to jelly, what would the real, flesh-and-blood Anton do to her?

Hoo, boy. Her mind could go absolutely anywhere with that notion, and keep itself happily entertained for hours on end.

It took nerve to get glammed up like this. Not something she did often. Or ever, really. Only when Patti insisted. Patti’s pet project had always been Fiona beautification. Domestication might actually be a better word, come to think of it. Fiona had done her best to be a good sport, but she had to fight conflicting inhibitions.

Jeremiah Paley, the leader of the survivalist cult where she’d grown up, had insisted that women and girls dress in modest, feminine clothing. She’d dressed according to his dictates, but her modesty hadn’t done her any good when Redd Kimball arrived up at GodsAcre. His hot, fixed gaze felt like ants crawling on her skin. Kimball had been lurking around every corner, rubbing up against her. Groping. Pinning her to the wall and whispering flesh-creeping filth into her ear.

She’d tried to just fade away, evade his notice. Hadn’t worked worth a damn.

A deep hesitation to invite male attention had stuck with her ever since, long after her escape. And whenever she tried to push back against that fear, she ended up overcompensating. She overdid it, egregiously. Went all-out sexpot. Put out confusing messages and got into all kinds of embarrassing, sometimes dangerous trouble.

It was more hassle than it was worth.

Patti had despaired of her. She’d tried so hard to teach her clueless country mouse cousin to pass for a normal California girl. The hair, the make-up, the clothes, the laughter, the lightness. Hah. As if.

She pushed down the memories of bouncy, friendly, giggling Patti. Later. That pain would wait for her. Pain was endlessly patient.

Today’s goal was to face Anton Trask and ask for help. There was no need for all this shivering and sighing. The guy’s only sin was in being terrifyingly gorgeous, talented and charismatic. She had a crush on him, yes, but that was hardly his fault. She owed him her life, essentially. But for him, she’d have been married to that dirt-bag Kimball when she was barely fifteen. That would have killed her. One way or another.

‘No’ had not been an option at GodsAcre. What Jeremiah said was law.

She’d tried to run away several times. They’d dragged her back. The last time, Kimball had her publically flogged. She didn’t remember much about the actual event, having blocked it out. But in her nightmares, she remembered Kimball’s glittering eyes as he watched. How he’d licked his lips. Liking it.

After that, Paley’s three stepsons, Anton and Eric and Mace, had taken matters into their own hands. They stole money from the treasury to buy a bus ticket to her aunt in California. Anton had led her through the woods himself, on steep, tortuous paths where they wouldn’t get seen or caught. They zig-zagged over the ridge, down Garrett Creek Canyon and eventually down into Shaw’s Crossing.

Anton had practically carried her at the end, her back hurt so badly. But he got her to the bus station.

And there, to her utter surprise, he’d kissed her goodbye.

Every last tiny detail of that kiss was burned into her memory.

She still remembered his long, dark blond hair blowing back in the wind as the bus pulled away. Those beautiful, muscular bare arms, tanned to gold. Those intense dark eyes, locked onto hers through the glass. Willing her to be strong and tough. Like him.

She’d been in love with him since forever. He was so gorgeous. Tall, strong, whip-smart. When kids hiked down to the swimming holes below the upper falls, she’d stared helplessly at his powerful body when it was wet and gleaming. His sharp cheekbones and full lips. That long, shaggy hair, all different shades of blond, from dark to light.

The bouncer was pushing open a heavy door. The time for frantic second-guessing was done.

Fiona walked into a large, wood-paneled room. It had sleek, essential furniture in black leather and steel. Banks of monitors and electronic equipment were smoothly incorporated into the walls, like the bridge of a luxury intergalactic space yacht.

“Ms. Garrett?”

She jerked around, startled, but the guy who had spoken wasn’t Anton. He was tall and striking in his own right, his big, heavily muscled body dressed in a tailored white shirt and black dress pants. Black hair. A hooked nose, a strong jaw, dark beard scruff. His deep-set eyes were keen and curious as he looked her over.

“Nate Murphy,” he said, extending his hand. “Anton’s head of security.”

She shook his hand politely. “I see. Did Anton ask you to check me out for deadly weapons? I often inspire terror in the hearts of men.”

“Not exactly.” His eyes flicked over her body. “I don’t know where you’d keep deadly weapons if you had them. I won’t search you. Anton said you guys go way back?”

“That’s right.” She just waited, offering no more details.

“So do we,” Murphy offered. “I met him in Vegas a long time ago. He got me a job as a bouncer at a club he worked at on the Strip after I got out of the Marines. I can’t imagine Trask as a kid.”

She made a noncommittal sound. Of course he couldn’t. Anton had never been a kid. Neither had she. But that was nobody’s business.

When she provided no further comment, Murphy opened the door behind him and beckoned her in. “He’s waiting,” he said. “Go on in.”

Fiona took a long, deep breath and jacked up her attitude-o-meter to its maximum setting. Shoulders back. Tits out. Chin up. She strutted past Nate Murphy. A slow, hip-swaying, take-no-prisoners saunter.

The room was dim and long, a black leather living room set at the far end in front of a bar. Low black couches and armchairs, a wide, low wooden coffee table, a dimly geometrically designed hanging lamp that was a modern art piece in itself. A floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the dance club dominated the first half of the room. Pulsing lights from the club flickered against the far wall. She glimpsed the gyrating throng on the dance floor below as she walked in.

The pounding music was barely audible. It seemed a physical impossibility to insulate a room from music that loud and that close, but somehow, they’d done it.

“Fi.” She froze at the sound of his voice. Even deeper and richer than she remembered. He’d been slow to talk and soft-spoken, but everyone had always leaned in and listened to every word. What Anton said had more weight than other people’s bullshit.

She forced herself to turn. Her heart thudded heavily.

Anton sat at a huge desk set into a niche in the back of the room. The dim light from the hanging lamp painted his starkly sculpted face with shadows. His shadowed eyes gleamed, unreadable. She tried to speak, but he beat her to it.

“It really is you,” he said.

You doubted it? Who else even knows I ever existed? They’re all dead. Words whirled in her head, but she couldn’t pick out what to say and what to discard.

Keep it simple, like Patti had said. Keep it light. Hi, Anton. Long time no see. Looking good. How’s life treating you. Nice place you got here.

But no. She had fuck-all to say to him. The cupboard was bare.

She coughed to shake her voice loose. “Hey,” she croaked. “Anton.”

She’d been afraid of this. That she’d freeze, tongue-tied, empty-headed. Just her frantically beating heart deafening her from the inside. She’d hoped adulthood would help.

No such luck.

He was crazy gorgeous. Even more so than she remembered. She missed the long hair, but the thick brush of dark blond stubble cast his chiseled male beauty in sharp relief. She’d been following the buzz on him, ever since he burst on the scene some years back as an up and coming DJ. His rise to fame had been swift. The cover of Billboard, BPM, URB, the article in Vogue, the interview in GQ. The guy was freaking everywhere.

Not that she was complaining. She owned every scrap of info printed on paper.

He’d gotten even more infamous last summer after a steamy, highly publicized fling with a Hollywood starlet, a red-haired It Girl. The affair ended badly. The starlet had complained bitterly. He was emotionally unavailable, the starlet bitched. Elusive. Remote. She’d felt used. Boohoo. Bad Boyfriend, the tabloids blared.

And there were all the videos online. Shows, festival clips, interviews. Commercials for athletic shoes, whiskey, champagne, luxury cars, men’s cologne, high-end sports watches. She watched them obsessively, sucked into his hypnotic, complex rhythms of his dance mixes. She had her many favorites saved on the desktop of her computer for quick and easy reference. Her secret addiction.

Anton leaned back in the chair, his gaze inscrutable. As was his custom, according to all the magazine articles, he was bare-chested beneath his jacket. His chest was densely covered with tattoos. The black satin jacket was cut perfectly for his broad shoulders.

Jeremiah Paley had hated tattoo art with a fiery passion.

Anton opened a desk drawer and took out a remote, pointing it at the glass viewing area overlooking the club. She heard the muted hum of a motor, and hanging vertical blinds marched across the window, sliding into place to cover it completely.

The colored flickering light vanished. The room felt suddenly smaller. Breathlessly intimate. Another gesture with the remote, and a pool of light flicked into being, all around her. A recessed bulb in the ceiling, right above her head.

Like a spotlight. As if she was the floor show, performing for an audience of one.

Patti’s advice flashed through her head again. How to talk naturally to men. How to combat being shy and tongue-tied.

Just pretend he’s naked.

Oh, man. In this case, Patti’s classic advice was a terrible idea. Once she thought it, she couldn’t unthink it. And her brain just went apeshit.

“What’s with the outfit, Fi?” he asked. “It’s a little much.”

Fiona glanced down at her ensemble. He was right, but she would die before she could admit it. “It’s a dance club,” she said. “Jeans and a tee-shirt would’ve stuck out. I wanted to blend in.”

He laughed under his breath. “It’s not working,” he said drily. “Sorry.”

“I don’t consider other people’s opinions when I choose my clothes,” she said. “I got enough of that back at GodsAcre.”

“So this is rebellion? A fuck-you to the Prophet’s tight-ass memory?”

She gazed at him without speaking for a moment. “I don’t make decisions based on the past,” she said. “I wear whatever I want. My life is not a reaction to my past. That gives them power over me even after they’re dead.”

He inclined his head slowly in acknowledgement. “True enough,” he said. “But you’re not comfortable in it.”

She couldn’t in all conscience deny it, but goddamn him for noticing. She resisted the urge to tug the skirt further down over her thighs. Since there was nothing to tug.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m never comfortable anyway.”

His eyes turned her inside out. No one looked at her that way. She was used to being checked out, but guys mostly looked at her ass, her lips, her chest. She had a force field for that. Shields up. Their gazes bounced right off her.

Not Anton. Her shields didn’t work on him. His eyes sliced right through her defenses as if they weren’t even there and penetrated, straight into her soul.

“I’m sorry,” Anton said.

“About what?”

His eyebrow tilted up. “That you can’t be comfortable.”

Crap. She didn’t want him feeling sorry for her. She wanted to have this interchange from a position of strength. And standing in front of him under the spotlight like merchandise on sale at a brothel did not help. “Could we go sit down?”

“I’m good here.”

Hmm. So much for common courtesy. “Well, I’m not.” She threw her shoulders back and refreshed the attitude, ratcheting it back up a few notches as she strolled toward his desk. She circled his desk with her best in-your-face swagger. “I’ll just sit down right here, then.” She perched her butt on the desk in front of him.

Anton shifted back, one leg crossed over the other. Black leather lace-up boots. Faded jeans clung to his thickly muscled legs. He was so strong. Muscles rippling as he moved in the chair.

Oh, boy. At this range, the effect was overwhelming. Now she could smell his cologne. Feel his body heat right on her skin. The subtle field of male energy about him enveloped her completely, making her short hairs prickle up all over her.

Anton exuded an aura of things about to happen. Danger barely averted. Total combat readiness. Raw, seething sexual energy. It beat against her senses like a high wind.

She was spellbound by the sharp angle of his jaw, the sensual shape of his unsmiling lips. His beard scruff glinted dark gold. Those wary eyes never wavered, constantly assessing, re-evaluating. Dark, thick slashing brows. He was everything she remembered, just bigger, stronger, hotter. More of everything he’d always been. Too much to process. He made her dizzy.

“Hello, you,” he murmured.

His silky tone made her shiver. She braced her hands on the edge of his desk, fishing desperately for something to say that wasn’t please just take me now.

“I was hoping to catch one of your sets tonight,” she said. “They say you do at least one set at one of your own clubs every week. I read that in Billboard.”

“Not this week. I took time for personal business.”

She didn’t say a word, just waited. To her surprise, he actually answered the unspoken question. “I was in Shaw’s Crossing for a couple days with Mace and Eric.”

That startled her. “For real? God, why?”

“A funeral. My foster father, Otis Trask. He’s the one who took me and Mace and Eric in after the fire. He died last week. A stroke.”

Her gaze dropped. “Oh. I’m so sorry to hear that. My condolences.”

He nodded in acknowledgement. “In any case, I’m scaling down the performances. I do a set once or twice a week at my own clubs. Some festivals. Hand-picked. I prefer to focus production work now. I’m sick of all the traveling, the crowds. The bullshit.”

“Clubs in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco,” she said. “Plus the production company. And all the advertising work. It’s really something, what you’ve built.”

“Yeah, I’m diversifying these days. Opening up in Vegas and Chicago next year.”

“I saw you at Coachella once,” she told him.

“Really?” His eyes widened. “Why didn’t you come backstage to see me?”

She laughed out loud. “My ass. Do you have any idea the quantity of screaming, desperate girls who were waiting to come see you after that set? The whole world wanted a piece of you that night.”

“You would have jumped right to the head of the line if you said the word.”

“That’s gratifying,” she murmured. “Thanks for deigning to receive me tonight.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “You follow this kind of music? I wouldn’t have thought electronic music would be your thing. You don’t strike me as the clubbing type.”

If you’re the one making the music, then hell yeah I follow it. “I’m a big fan,” she said. “I don’t like crowds, so I don’t do clubs or dance floors much, but I listen to some of your sets all the time. I listened to last year’s Tomorrowland set all last summer whenever I went jogging on the beach. It was awesome.”

His lips curved briefly. “Thanks.” He gestured toward the hidden viewing window. “You heard that kid downstairs. The one doing the opening set. What do you think?”

She considered the question for moment. “Not bad. He’s high energy, and he’s got them dancing, but there’s room for the sound to grow when the headliner comes on. The crowd will be primed for the peak set. It’s good work. Disciplined. He’s got brains.”

He nodded. “My conclusion exactly. He’s playing his cards well.”

“You’re giving him his first break?”

“Yeah. I like to giving space to new talent,” he said. “Let them struggle and sweat now. It’s their turn. I’ve already paid my dues.”

“That’s good of you,” she said.

“Good business. An investment in the future.”

“Of course. Excuse me for implying that you have a heart.”

He rolled his eyes with a noncommittal grunt and declined to answer that.

Fiona ran her finger up the gleaming length of a fountain pen that adorned his desk. “Pretty,” she said. “Very fancy. Solid gold, I assume.”

“Of course.”

“Ever written anything with this? A love note, a contract?”

“No.”

“Just for show, then.” Her eyes landed on a bronze statue in the corner, lit with its own dedicated beam of carefully angled light. Some tormented looking nude. “That, too, I expect. Looks expensive.”

“It was,” he agreed.

“So you’re into art appreciation? Classy. Goes with your image.”

A perplexed line appeared between his dark brows. “Which is what?”

“Inscrutable bad boy genius. Pop stars and Hollywood A-list actresses love to fling themselves against you and smash themselves to pieces.”

“I’m an artist, businessman and producer,” he growled. “The rumors are bullshit.”

“Hmm. Remember all of Jeremiah’s sermons? His favorite theme? Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. Then I read in GQ about your fleet of luxury cars—”

“It’s not a fleet. You actually believe that gossipy shit?”

Hmmm, she’d scored one. Gotten under his skin. “Where there’s smoke…”

“There’s always smoke,” he said. “All those people do is blow smoke. Stop sniping at me and make your point, Fi.”

She would if she could, but she was still working up to it. Next to the fountain pen there was a perfect, palm-sized pink rock with veins of green, tumbled to a smooth matte sheen. She hefted it. It felt good in her hand. “What’s this? Kryptonite?”

“Just a river rock. It’s from Garrett Creek, right below the upper falls.”

She froze for a moment, then set the rock down carefully. “Why do you keep that?”

He lifted his shoulders. “To remember where I came from.”

“Really? You need a reminder?”

“Not really. But it serves a dual purpose. I could cave in somebody’s head with it if I needed to.”

“Ah. Now you’re talking my language.” She looked around at every detail of the luxurious room. “Fancy art. Gold pens, fancy lighting, sleek black leather…what does this man cave represent? You’re too young for a mid-life crisis. Not thirty-three yet, right?”

“In a few months. Mid-life crises are for people who spend their whole lives not getting what they want. Then they wake up to it, and they panic. Not me. I take exactly what I want, whenever I want it. There’s no delay of gratification. No panic buildup.”

“Wow,” she murmured, impressed. “Sweet.”

A lazy smile curved his lips. “If you say so.”

“But you’re rebelling,” she told him. “Jeremiah hated, oh, let’s count the line items. Ostentatious wealth, loud music, alcohol, drugs, dancing, sexy outfits, frivolous use of vital resources such as energy. Tattoos. Even that designer jacket. What is that, Armani? You would have caught a thundering load of scorn from him. I can already hear the rant about the decline of modern manhood into decadent irrelevance.”

“It’s Armani. Good eye. Glad you like it. Good thing he’s dead. We don’t have to listen.”

“Damn right,” she said.

There was a brief, charged silence before he spoke again. “How about you?”

Fiona looked at him blankly. “What about me?”

“Do you get what you want, Fi? Do you even know what you want?”

She bristled. “What the hell kind of question is that?”

He took so long to reply, she started to fidget. “I haven’t seen you since you were a teenager,” he said finally. “Then, out of nowhere, you show up wearing a cock-teasing costume that makes you nervous as a cat in a bathtub. You’re all up in my face. Something is bugging you. Which doesn’t surprise me. Anyone who survived GodsAcre is fucked up by definition. But you’re not here for your health, Fi. You’re not here for fun. What do you want from me?”

So much for the smooth-lead-in. Fiona clutched the edge of the desk, trying to remember her carefully scripted speech. Gone from her head, poof.

“This is going to sound crazy,” she said.

“I’m fine with crazy,” Anton said. “Lived around it all my life. Out with it.”

“OK.” She cleared her throat. “It’s about Redd Kimball.”

Anton’s eyes narrowed. “What about him? The bastard is dead. And I’m glad.”

“Well, that’s the thing,” she said. “He didn’t die in the GodsAcre fire. He’s still out there. And now he’s trying to kill me.”

End of Excerpt

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Shannon McKenna | Jun 19, 2020