Authors: Ayden K Morgen
The Teplo Trilogy #1
Ayden K. Morgen
Copyright © 2015 by Ayden K. Morgen
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Edited by: Courtney Schulist
Mayhem Cover Creations
For SS – thank you for being my dance partner and knight for so many years. My life wouldn't be the same without you in it. I love you.
Terror fired through Kalani Abrams like mortar exploding from a cannon. Everything raced… her mind and heart pounding so fiercely she couldn't catch a breath. Pained sobs wracked her body as she fled, her bare feet flying across the cold living room floor.
Her assailant followed, his boots hitting the old hardwood with ominous thumps.
"Why are you running from me, Kalani?" Paulo Vetrov asked, amusement lacing his conversational tone. "My father asked me to come speak to you. He misses you."
Another bolt of fear shot through Kalani at the reminder of her former employer. The emotion threatened to drown her, crushing air from her lungs as certainty grasped at her like choking vines. No way had Anton Vetrov sent a bastard like Paulo to
to her. She'd warmed Anton's bed long enough to know better.
His son was the worst sort of monster, a soulless sociopath who terrorized others for the fun of it. Anton set him loose on those who betrayed him as if setting free a hellhound. And like a hellhound, Paulo thrived on the damage he inflicted.
Already, Kalani's cheek throbbed where he'd struck her. Her eye was swollen shut.
God, why had she answered the door?
Let him wrestle her cell phone away from her?
Both were mistakes. And mistakes were fatal.
"Leave me alone," she pleaded, the words almost incoherent as she scrambled toward the kitchen, praying for Thomas to appear on her porch. She'd give anything to see him. To tell him she was sorry for kicking him out. That she wanted to be with him, had left Anton's employ to marry him.
If Paulo caught her, she'd never see Thomas again. He'd never know the truth.
Kalani rounded the kitchen table, reaching blindly for the carved wooden chair tucked against the two-seater. The cool wood glided across her palm. Clutching the edge, she jerked downward, praying the obstacle slowed Paulo down.
The chair hit the floor with a solid thump.
Kalani kept going, the promise of freedom and safety beckoning to her.
No more than five feet stood between her and the back door. If she made it out, she could scream for her neighbors to help her. They'd call the police, and she could tell them everything about Anton, Paulo, and their horrible family.
In ten years as Anton's paid whore, she'd seen enough – theft, rape, assault. Murder.
How many more would suffer for their greed?
She didn't know, but their latest scheme was the worst of all.
"You can't outrun me," Paulo said from behind her in that same sickening, almost conversational tone.
The chair crashed into the wall half a second before Kalani slammed into the faded wood door.
She clawed at the knob, desperately trying to unlatch the sticky lock.
The salt of her tears burned her injured eye.
Sobs caught in her throat, choking her.
"I told you," Paulo said, so close his hot breath washed across her neck.
"No," Kalani cried when the old lock refused to cooperate. "No, no, no."
Paulo's arms closed around her, dragging her backward, away from the door and the promise of safety on the other side. He spun her around, one of his hands raised as if to strike her. Even twisted into a sneer, his face was too beautiful, all sharp angles and arresting planes.
Kalani wanted to vomit at the excited gleam lurking in his dark gaze… as if watching her scramble for her life turned him on. She kicked her feet, aiming for him.
Paulo grunted when her bare toes connected with his shin.
His hand came down across the side of her face.
Pain ripped through her cheek, stealing her breath.
"Where are they?" he asked her.
Kalani tried to scream at him to go to hell, but all she managed was a voiceless whimper. She tilted her head back to spit in his face, determined to fight until she couldn't fight anymore. If he wanted to kill her, she intended to make him work for it.
She wouldn't go quietly like his other victims. Victims she'd kept silent about for so long, pretending they didn't exist. Pretending her boss, his son, and the rest of their terrible family weren't monsters. And for what? A steady paycheck? A life off the streets? A few hits of Ecstasy?
Maybe she deserved death.
"Stupid woman." Paulo shoved her to the ground.
Pain ripped through her head.
He dropped to his knees, straddling her as she struggled to catch her breath.
In one quick, effortless move, he pinned her arms between his legs and then reached into his pocket to withdraw a small plastic bag. Horror turned Kalani's vision black for a moment when she caught sight of the syringe inside.
"Oh God, please don't," she begged as Paulo loomed above her, his weight immobilizing her.
He ignored her, plunging one hand inside the baggie.
Kalani tried to thrash beneath him, fighting for escape.
But he was too big, too strong.
Despite the desperation fueling her attempts, she barely managed even a wriggle.
Paulo jerked the needle from the bag, and leaned forward, forcing her arm straight before securing it with his knee on her hand. The pain of his weight crushing her fingers barely registered as he searched for a vein.
"No!" Kalani screamed when he found one and pushed the needle into her arm in one fluid move.
"Shh. This won't hurt at all," he whispered, depressing the plunger.
Kalani's arm burned, giving away his lie. She jerked beneath him, unwilling to give up and just let him kill her even if that was what she deserved. She might as well not have bothered, though.
Paulo sat still, seemingly unaffected by her weak struggles.
"No one steals from the Vetrov family," he said when she stopped fighting him and accepted the inevitable. "While you choke on your own vomit, I'll find those papers. You'll die, and no one will even know why, you stupid, little whore."
"No," she groaned, the lethal drugs hitting her in a rush. Her heart rate slowed and then sped, faster and faster. Her body jerked involuntarily. Everything around her blurred, fading. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she tried to say, though whether she apologized to God, to Paulo, or to Thomas – who she'd never see again – she didn't know. And it didn't really matter anyway. The words were little more than soundless gasps.
Fluid filled her mouth, gagging her.
She scratched at the ground with her free hand, grasping for air, for hope, for another chance, but it didn't come. After everything she'd done in her life, she should have expected that, she supposed. But she hadn't.
Death, it seemed, didn't care if she regretted her choices or wanted to make amends.
And neither did Paulo Vetrov.
Kalani's fingers twitched beneath his knee, and then lay still.
"Whore," Paulo whispered, reaching out to stroke her cheek.
His hateful, angelic face was the last thing Kalani saw.
Two damn storage rooms inside
, and Tristan Riley had picked the wrong one.
"Son of a bitch," he swore, kicking the broken mop bucket at his feet as he glared at the mess surrounding him. There was no way a basement entrance was nestled amidst the accumulated junk heaped around him. Bottles of booze and metallic kegs filled the tight space from one end to the other. Bits of paper and cardboard littered the floor, some stuck to the discolored cement as if they'd been there for years.
What he sought clearly wasn't here.
With a defeated sigh, he ducked back through the doorway... and ran right into a blond less than half his height.
"What the fuck?" The man reeled backwards, surprise and then suspicion flashing through his cold blue eyes.
Tristan rocked back on his heels, instinct leading him to hunch his shoulders so he appeared smaller, less threatening.
For the love of Christ, play it cool,
he coached himself, praying his expression gave away none of the frustration surging through him.
Tense silence hung in the air for a protracted moment.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" the blond said then, shifting his stance as if preparing to take a swing.
"Got lost," Tristan lied without hesitation. The words rolled off his tongue slow and lazy.
"You think?" The man's gaze darted across Tristan's form, suspicion still stamped across his unfamiliar face.
Tristan forced himself to take deep, even breaths. His mind raced, trying to place the man, but he came up empty. The handful of mug shots and surveillance photos shoved into the Vetrov family's thick file were unmistakable, and he was certain this one's face hadn't been among them. The jagged scar across the man's cheekbone wasn't easily forgotten. Neither were his malevolent blue eyes.
"Get the fuck outta here."
Tristan didn't stick around for further instruction, instead taking two quick, shuffling steps forward.
"Too frigging close," he muttered when the crowd on the dance floor closed ranks around him, blocking him in. He glanced around, taking a moment to take stock of his surroundings.
Strobe lights flashed across the grimy club in an array of haunting colors, briefly striking the mass of bodies crammed into the place. Bits of sweaty skin, blank smiles and vacant, bloodshot eyes flared into focus between one bright flash and the next, offering up just enough lurid detail to make him sick to his stomach.
All around him, dancers swayed and jumped to the electronic beats vibrating the floor beneath their feet, oblivious to everything but the drugs pumping through their veins. Alcohol all but seeped from their pores, clogging his nose with a bitter mix of body odor, alcohol, and desperation.
Gritting his teeth against the stench, he hurried on, doing his best to get lost in the crowd before anyone thought to ask questions about him being in that damn storage room. How the hell had he managed to get caught, anyway? He'd been careful. Real careful. Or so he'd thought.
It obviously hadn't been enough.
Christ. What a rookie mistake.
An emaciated man, skin aged and pockmarked from years of addiction, spun in front of Tristan, his arms shooting out in a spastic attempt at dancing. Someone moved into the ribbon of empty space behind the guy, pushing him forward. A bony elbow hit Tristan in the stomach. The guy's feet tangled with his.
The man fell hard.
Tristan spun to the side to avoid being dragged down onto the grime of the floor with him.
"Oh," the addict groaned and then giggled, kicking his legs in the air like a dog trying to roll over.
Tristan cringed, but no one else seemed to notice or care about their fallen comrade.
Another dancer shuffled backward, his dirty boots inches from crushing the man's fingers. Tristan stepped around the poor bastard and pushed through the fringes of the group, searching for the far wall. Every instinct he had screamed for him to make sure the blond wasn't following behind him, but he refused to look back.
That move would seem cagey as hell.
The greasy blond appeared harmless enough in his jeans and polo, but Tristan had worked undercover long enough to know appearances were deceiving, especially in this world. People here lied as easily as they breathed. They killed, robbed, and stole without much effort either.
A girl tripped, landing on her hands and knees right in front of him. The lights overhead cast an eerie green tint over her as she threw her head back and howled with laughter. Her short dress inched up her thighs, exposing the flimsy garters beneath. When she noticed Tristan standing in front of her, a fuzzy, calculating smile stretched across her face.
"Excuse me," he muttered before she opened her mouth to offer him… who knew what. He maneuvered around her, twisting his body to cast a furtive look over his shoulder.
The blond stood two yards away, his blue eyes locked on Tristan's retreating form.
Tristan ran through a mental list of Anton Vetrov's hired help again.
Had he overlooked someone?
He didn’t think so, but hell, he wasn't sure.
Until very recently,
the Vetrov family, and their associates had flown beneath the Drug Enforcement Administration's radar. They were crooks, criminals, and small time dealers to boot, but not exactly the kind of lowlife assholes the DEA took the time to put out of business. They had bigger fish to fry, and left people like the Vetrov family for Seattle P.D. to handle.
Except that wasn't true anymore, was it?
Seven dead bodies had appeared on the streets of Seattle in the last few weeks, each with a lethal combination of illicit drugs in their system. And each with ties to
. Nothing about that screamed coincidence to Tristan or his bosses, which meant he'd been stuck with investigating the hellhole to see what he could shake loose.
So fucking far, he didn't like what he'd found.
The Vetrov family had opened their own frigging drug lab. Tristan just needed to find it, preferably before anyone else died. And someone else would. In places like this, they always did.
"Dammit," he swore and raked his hands through his hair, frustrated as ever at that grim reality. Casting another glance around, his gaze landed on a brunette pressed into the wall a few yards ahead.
Even from a distance, she stood out. Her thick hair was piled atop her head, soft, brown tendrils escaping the artless bun. Her skirt looked a little too modest for this crowd, and her breasts weren't spilling out of her top. She was thin and willowy with the longest, sexiest legs he had seen in months. She held her head high, exposing the graceful line of her neck. With her shoulders pushed back, her small, pert breasts jutted forward as if begging to be touched.
With one look, Tristan knew she didn't belong here.
But then again, who did?
Even people who knew better found themselves caught up in places like this. They got tired of playing it safe, of being labeled good girls, nice guys, or a thousand other such things and walked through the doors, looking for an out, a thrill, or a way to disprove everything they believed about themselves. They found their escape in tiny little pills and spoon melted liquid, in used needles and lines on mirrors.
Most of them never looked back again.
As he watched, the brunette squeezed her eyes shut and pressed herself further into the wall, almost as if willing herself to disappear. Her breath came in sharp gasps and shallow exhalations, her bottom lip quivering. Either she was terrified out of her mind… or she was in the middle of a really bad trip.
Tristan cast another quick look over his shoulder.
The blond still stood in the same spot, watching him.
Tristan glanced back at the brunette, quickly calculating and then recalculating. No way would his little shadow forget him if he rushed out now, but maybe….
"Jesus, let this work," he muttered and strode toward the brunette. Within a matter of moments, he'd reached her side. A split second more and he snaked an arm around her waist, pulling her close in one fluid, intimate move.
Her eyes popped open, a surprised gasp flying from her lips.
His bright blue gaze met deep brown under the chaos of the strobe lights and held. Her eyes were far too clear and focused; her pulse quick, but steady. Whatever had her pressed to the wall in the crowded, drug-fueled club had nothing to do with a bad trip. She wasn't high.
Relief washed through Tristan, followed by the stirrings of lust. She felt good beneath his hands, soft, supple, warm. Her clothing didn't reek of alcohol, body odor, too much perfume, or anything else marking the girls here better than a flashy, neon red arrow either. She smelled fresh, like flowers. Innocent.
His thigh brushed hers.
"Let me go!"
He tugged her closer, refusing to obey her demand. He needed the alibi she presented, and she obviously needed someone to get her the hell out of here. Leaning forward, he whispered in her ear, "I won't hurt you. I just need you to dance with me, beautiful."
She smelled even better up close and personal.
"No. I don't dance."
Ignoring her weak protest, he wrapped his arm more firmly around her waist. She tried to pull away again, but he ushered her toward the dance floor, determined to follow through with his plan and dance away whatever suspicions he'd roused before escorting her out.
It wasn't a stellar plan, but it was the only one he had.
The brunette stumbled, trying to speak, but the words got lost beneath one heavy pulse of music and the next.
Tristan pressed on, slipping between dancers until a clear space opened up around him and the woman on his arm. In the center of the dance floor, he turned toward her, only for her to shrink away from him, turning her head side to side as if looking for an exit.
Bodies closed in around them, boxing her into the little space he'd cleared.
Her hands trembled and her face paled when she realized there was no escape. Fear and panic rose like a cloud in her gaze before she squeezed her eyes closed, effectively closing him out.
Why was she so afraid?
"I won't hurt you, I promise. Just dance with me." He pulled her closer, leaving her no choice.
"I told you I can't dance," she protested anyway. Her lower lip trembled again. When she cracked her eyes open again, fear burned in the depths.
Tristan bit back a curse, trying not to frighten her further. It wasn't her fault he'd dragged her onto the dance floor, and he didn't exactly blame her for being afraid in a place like this. "Sure you can," he said, offering her a confident smile. "I'll lead."
She shook her head back and forth, moisture welling in her eyes. "No, you don't understand. My leg…."
He swept his gaze down her body to the leg she indicated with a flutter of her hand, but saw nothing wrong. Not even close. He sized her up, his gaze traveling slow and steady over her body.
Jesus, she was beautiful.
Lithe and willowy, yet soft in all the right places.
Appreciation wound through him.
Leaning forward, he let his warm breath stir tendrils of hair along her neck. Praying she didn't slap him, he trailed his hand down her hip, onto her upper thigh, and then squeezed once, his eyes locked on hers. "Your legs are perfect."
She trembled again. The soft brown color of her eyes darkened, making it clear she trembled in response to his touch this time, at least partly. The flush in her cheeks deepened.
Tristan bit back a groan when he noticed the way that blush extended down the long line of her neck before disappearing beneath her blouse.
Who was she?
Better yet, why the hell was she
Quelling the urge to ask her that particular question, he inched his hand further down her thigh. The pull of his palm on the fabric of her skirt gave way to the glide of bare skin across bare skin. And then he felt the long surgical line branded into her thigh. Healed, but still puckered where staples had recently held her flesh together. The pitted muscle surrounding the scar made him wince.
He lifted his eyes to hers.
Humiliation and pain swam in her gaze.
Tristan swallowed the question hovering on the tip of his tongue. Whatever had happened to her leg… she didn't want to talk about it.
"Rod or plates?" he asked instead of prying for answers she didn't owe him.
She blinked. "What?"
"Rod or plates?" He placed his fingers over the scar in explanation of his question.
"Both." Her lower lip quivered on the word.
Jesus. No wonder she didn't dance.
A steel rod and plates welded and fused to bone didn't make movement easy. But then again, he didn't need her to breakdance. He just needed her to sway those sexy little hips of hers for a few minutes.
"Hang on to me," he murmured into her ear and then hitched her thigh around his hip.