Authors: Julia Sykes
“I’m sorry,” he said, but his voice held no contrition. “That was inappropriate.”
I blushed and looked away. “Yes,” I agreed. “It was wrong.”
His fingers curled under my chin, lifting my face to his. When I met his gaze, I found that his expression was stern. “No. I’ll apologize for kissing you because we’re coworkers, and that was inappropriate. But it wasn’t wrong. I meant what I said, Katie. You need a Dom. You need someone to help you let go and make you see that it’s okay to be vulnerable. And you naturally crave that submission.”
I shook my head. “Reed, I-”
“Don’t deny it,” he rode over me smoothly. “You’re not allowed to lie, remember?”
My teeth sank into my lower lip. “Yes. I remember.”
Reed blinked and stepped away again, releasing me from his touch. I rocked forward slightly as my body protested the loss.
“You need a Dom, and I won’t deny that my instincts are to fill that need. You’re innocent and submissive and beautiful, and you need a firm hand to make you see sense when it comes to protecting yourself.” His eyes darkened. “Do you have any idea how goddamn irresistible you are?”
Unease stirred through my dumbfounded moment of flattery. “Reed, I… I don’t want this. I mean,” I said quickly before he could warn me against lying, “I’m scared of this. I shouldn’t want to be made vulnerable. Not after everything I’ve seen…” I trailed off, unable to compare Reed to Martel. The two men were nothing alike, but that didn’t stop my subconscious from fearing submission. I was afraid to willingly make myself powerless.
thinned, and the lingering lust seeped from his features. “Okay, Katie,” he finally allowed. “I can understand that. I won’t push you to be something you don’t want to be.”
I blew out a relieved breath. “Thank you.”
He nodded curtly, his expression disapproving despite his capitulation.
“Come on,” I said to break the tension. “Let’s get breakfast. I might even try coffee. If I load it up with sugar, it might be bearable.”
Just like that, Reed’s levity returned. He gave a dramatic shudder, but his smile was back. “Blasphemy,” he declared. “You drink it black, or you don’t drink it at all. I’ll teach you to like it.”
I nodded my surrender. Oh, I was sure Reed could teach me to like a lot of things.
“Take a bite of the iced lemon cake first,” Reed instructed from where he sat across from me at Starbucks. I tore off a chunk of yellow cake and obediently popped it between my lips. It was sweet and tangy. “Now drink.” Reed pushed the cup of black coffee toward me. I eyed it warily. “Katie.” My name was a stern admonishment for hesitating.
I reached forward and plucked up the paper cup. My sip was tentative. I hadn’t tried coffee since I was eleven. I had sneaked a swig out of my dad’s thermos one day and deemed it disgusting.
This was different. The bitter liquid mingled with the sweetness
of the cake on my tongue, morphing it into something rich and boldly flavorful.
“See?” Reed said triumphantly. “The lemon cake works with the citrus notes in this blend. You’ll be an addict like the rest of us soon enough.”
I laughed. “I don’t think anyone I know is as much of an addict as you are. The
This isn’t a wine tasting, Reed.”
He grinned at me. “No, it’s better. Wine is gross.”
“What would you prefer? Irish coffee?” I teased.
like that. But I’m a microbrew man, really.”
Citrus notes in coffee? Oh my god, are you a hipster?”
“I don’t know, am I? I like to think I just have discerning tastes. Although I have been considering growing a scraggly beard and wearing baggy striped sweaters…”
I held up a hand. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“What, you don’t think I could pull it off?”
“No. I mean, yes.” I fumbled. The man would look gorgeous no matter what he wore.
His grin turned crooked. “So you like the way I look?”
I rolled my eyes to cover how flustered I had become. “You know you’re pretty. You don’t need me to tell you that to feed your ego.”
“Oh, my ego is always hungry.” His expression shifted to something wolfish. “I like the way you look, too, Katie.” He eyed me with flagrant appreciation.
I didn’t understand how he could think that, but the attraction between us was undeniably potent.
“You’re innocent and submissive and beautiful.”
I could hardly believe Reed had spoken those words. No one thought I was beautiful. Well, George had said I was pretty. And the criminals I brought in always had something sickeningly appreciative to say about my body. No one else had ever shown any interest.
No one ever got close enough to show interest.
I supposed Frank’s shadow had always loomed large over me. Most men cowered in his presence, so I guessed it wasn’t such a surprise that I hadn’t had more than one boyfriend since he took me under his wing. Besides, I worked so hard to make him proud that I hadn’t really allowed myself time for relationships. And now the first man who truly enflamed me was off-limits.
I tore my eyes from Reed’s. “That’s enough of that,” I mumbled.
His lips turned down at the corners, but he wisely let it drop. He pushed back in his seat, putting more distance between us. When had he leaned into me? I resisted the temptation to angle my body forward to keep him close. We were like magnets, drawn together when we weren’t actively resisting. Somehow, Reed wanted me as badly as I wanted him.
He wants you because you’re
a mean little voice reminded me. He had told me I needed a Dom, and he naturally wanted to fulfil that role. While the idea of Reed dominating my body got me hotter than I would have thought possible before I met him, it still scared me more than a little bit. That fear was convenient. It was all that kept me from jumping his bones. Or begging him to jump mine. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be the aggressor in any of our sexual interactions. Reed wouldn’t allow it.
His lips took on a regretful twist, and I realized I was staring again.
Fear. Yes, fear was definitely better than lust. I focused on the horrors of my dream to dispel my need for my partner’s touch. My face must have betrayed my disgust, because Reed’s brow wrinkled with concern.
“You had that look when I came to your apartment this morning. Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
I pursed my lips.
“No,” I said honestly. “I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s get to the office before Dex sends out a search.”
Thankfully, Reed agreed without pressing for more. I was also grateful that Dex wasn’t waiting for me when I stepped out of the elevator and into the office. I didn’t want him to see me arrive with Reed, especially not when we both looked like we hadn’t slept that night. Given how touchy my friend was about my new partner, I didn’t want to give him a reason to go off again. Dex was usually a fierce but stable presence at my side, and I didn’t know how to deal with this new, angry facet of his personality. It was almost as disconcerting as Frank’s sudden disapproval of my actions at every turn.
I dispelled my concerns when Reed and I settled into work, splitting up the names of the customers at Dusk to continue the research I had begun that morning. It was fairly dull work, and I found myself running background checks on each person by rote. All I needed was a name and address to lead me to a social security number, and then I had more than enough information about every person on the list. Sometimes, it scared me to realize how easy it was for me to delve into the lives of strangers, just because of one short string of numbers and the right security clearance.
I pushed aside my moral qualms. Catching The Mentor was more important than my personal feelings of guilt. It didn’t take me long to get to the surnames beginning with
, and my little shocked gasp popped through the silence.
“What?” Reed asked immediately. “What did you find?”
I gaped at the name and address. Ran it, just to be sure. One hit.
I turned disbelieving eyes on him. “Your boss is on this list.”
“Oh. I figured he might be.” He shrugged and turned back to his work as though what I had found was of no consequence. “You can skip me when you get to the
s.” He shot me a sardonic grin. “I promise I’m completely innocent.”
“Wait,” my brain tried to catch up. “You knew Carver is a patron at Dusk?” I remembered Reed’s familiarity with Josh Dover. I had suspected that he had visited the club before, and he didn’t hide his lifestyle.
But his boss?
Reed rolled his eyes. “Could you not shriek it out like that? Kennedy doesn’t keep it secret, but that’s not exactly common knowledge. I think he tries to keep his more public activities limited to clubs outside New York.”
I pitched my voice lower. “So your boss is a Dom. And so are you. And you’ve both been to Dusk. That’s a bit of a small world, isn’t it?”
“Not really. There are more of us than you think. We just tend to frequent the same places. Really great clubs are hard to find. Kennedy and I aren’t the only
lifestylers in the New York unit. And I can promise you I’m not the only one in the Chicago unit now.” He shot me a significant look. “Why don’t you leave the
s to me.”
s? Who does he think-?
Dex. Dexter Scott.
“Or you could hand over the whole list to me.”
All the blood drained from my face. It was as though my thoughts had summoned my friend. I craned my head back to find him looming over me, scowling.
“I want in on this,” he declared. “Frank might have pulled me from being your partner, but I still want to help with The Mentor case. Let me handle the patrons of Dusk. It’s desk work, anyway. You need to go out and speak to Sally Johnson’s family.”
I winced. I hadn’t wanted to face them. We had recently IDed the last of the eight women Martel had murdered, and Sally Johnson had been a Chicago native. Looking further into the activities of the other women before their disappearances, we had found that they all had reason to be in Chicago around the time they were taken. Martel lived outside NYC, but it seemed he had done his hunting here. Lydia Chase had first given the case footing in Chicago, but this new discovery shifted the investigation here more fully. It was one of the reasons Reed had been sent to work with me.
But there was nothing worse than facing a victim’s family.
Especially in a case like this. The anguish in their eyes when they thought of their daughter or wife being tortured before she was killed was almost too terrible to look upon. Even worse was the dead-eyed stare that so many parents developed in these cases.
I hate my job.
But my work was important. I would bring to justice the man who was responsible for teaching Martel how to hurt Sally. I could at least give her family that.
Even as I thought it, I knew it was a hollow comfort. Justice was just a word, an idea people used to combat their own sense of frailty, to allow them to pretend that there was some sense of fairness in the world. Justice wouldn’t bring back the person they loved. I had learned
that the hard way. Watching the man who shot my father being sentenced to life in prison hadn’t eased the ache inside my heart.
“I wish I could be there with you.” Dex’s gentle voice called me back to him. His blue eyes were earnest, concerned. He knew me well enough to know what was going through my head. He had long ago realized how much I hated this part of my work.
“Me too,” I said quietly.
Warmth enveloped my hand, and I looked down to find that Reed was gently squeezing my fingers in a show of comfort.
“I’ll be with you,”
his black eyes told me.
Even though he hadn’t spoken the words aloud, I still noticed Dex stiffen at my side. He clearly hated my obvious closeness with my new partner. If I didn’t know better, I would say his heated glare was one of jealousy.
But Dex didn’t think of me like that. Surely he was just being protective of me. Like Frank, Dex didn’t approve when men got close to me. Once, I might have been grateful, but now it just made me feel awkward. Because this time, I actually wanted the man who was close to me.
I stood abruptly. “We should go,” I announced, not looking at either man. “Thanks for the help, Dex.” It truly was a relief to hand over the list from Dusk to him. Seeing his name on it would just be too weird.
Then I thought of where I was headed. I immediately regretted my agreement to leave the desk work to Dex. I would rather do anything else than face Sally Johnson’s family.
I felt as though I had aged ten years in the half hour we spent questioning the Johnsons. Weariness and grief sank all the way into my bones, and I couldn’t wait to get up to my apartment and cuddle Gizmo.