Authors: Sophie Oak
As though on perfect cue, a weird sense of joy went through him.
Georgia stopped her chatter long enough to stare. “Oh, you’re having one of those twin moments. I can always tell because you flush a little and look really surprised. Why are you so surprised? It happens all the time.”
His stomach turned. That was him, not Chase. “Chase is happy.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Oh, shit. Who died? Do you think he killed them?”
At least she knew her brother. His cell rang. Fresh hell. That was what Chase would bring. Ben had no doubt. “Just tell me.”
“We got a dead body, bro. We’re going to Hicksville. I already called and had your plane rescheduled. Murder. Awesome.”
Ben let his head hit the table. “Check, please.”
* * * *
“This isn’t over, Natalie.”
Natalie sat in the back of Cal’s SUV. Cal was driving, but her other lawyer had his head turned back, a sympathetic gleam in his eyes. Finn Taylor had blown through the small sheriff’s department with a commanding presence that belied his submissive nature. She’d learned that about Finn long ago. He was deeply submissive until he got his “lawyer” on. The minute Finn started in on the legal crap, he shoved his betaness aside and took over the room. Even Cal, überDom, had stepped aside and allowed Finn to take over.
She was only out because Finn had scared the crap out of the sheriff. And she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. Awesome. Like she had anywhere else to go.
“How long until they get all the DNA stuff back?” Nat asked.
Cal’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “It’s not like TV, Natalie. It can take a very long time.”
“I’ll have Julian push some people around, see if we can get it done faster.” Finn turned back to her. “Unless there’s something you want to tell us. Was he hurting you? Did he try to rape you? Do you remember what happened, sweetie?”
She groaned. Just because she’d killed one asshole in a fit of rage and self-defense didn’t mean she went around doing it for fun. “I happily gave up the DNA, Finn. I didn’t screw the Furniture King. Yuck.”
It was building inside her.
. It had been months and months since she’d felt the need to hurt herself. She didn’t want to go through that again. She didn’t want to fall back into that terribly dark place she’d been in after freeing herself from Hawk.
Finn reached back and touched her knee. “I’m sorry, Nat. I just wouldn’t have blamed you if you had. So, I’ll have Julian apply a little pressure, and we’ll get this cleared up. Whoever had sex with the bastard is probably the one who killed him.”
It didn’t make a lick of sense. “I locked the door.”
“And he unlocked it.” Cal turned up the long drive that would take them to the resort. Normally the gorgeous, tree-lined drive made her calm, but her head wouldn’t stop working. “I made sure they dusted for prints on the inside of the door. He didn’t need a key to get out or to let someone in.”
“But who? I didn’t see anyone.” Of course she’d gone back to her office. She hadn’t sat outside the door.
Finn patted her knee. “Don’t worry about this, Nat. You didn’t do it. I don’t trust the police here so I’m bringing in my own investigator. Two of them, in fact. They’re brilliant. Well, one of them is, and the other one is the, well, human one. You’ll see. When he shows up, just answer their questions and this will all go away soon.”
“Why does she let you do that, but she cringes when I try to comfort her?” Cal asked.
Cal had been good to her. She liked Cal. She hated the fact that he was hurt by her quirks. She clenched her fists. The need to pinch herself or scrape her skin until she drew blood was so close to the surface. “I’m sorry, Cal. It’s nothing against you.”
“She knows I’m not a Dom. She knows damn well I’ve never held a whip or crop, just felt one against my ass.” Finn turned back, facing the front.
“I would never hurt you, Natalie,” Cal said. “My wife loves you. That means you’re practically part of my family. I just wish you would let me help.”
Because Cal was one of the good ones. Cal was an actual Dom and not a sadistic bastard. He wanted to help the subs around him, needed to be needed for the unique protections he could offer. She knew damn well he had zero sexual interest in her, but she was close to his wife so he would want to help her. And she couldn’t let him. “I’m just…sorry.”
She could lock herself in and no one would have to know. Her thigh. Just a little cut and the pain would float away.
“I have to get back to Dallas, Cal. Ben is in Colorado on an errand for Julian, so don’t expect them until maybe midafternoon.” She watched Finn stiffen, his body hardening as though he hated what he was about to do. “Nat, I’m so sorry. I have to tell him. She’s going to lock herself in her room and cut her legs. You can’t let her do that.”
Cal stopped the car, the SUV jerking. “What?”
Tears formed, Finn’s betrayal cutting her deeper than she ever cut herself. She didn’t respond. Didn’t need to. Now Gaby would know what a fucked-up piece of shit she was and her job would be toast. She wouldn’t be allowed around clients because no one wanted a psycho chick rubbing them down.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do it.” Finn’s eyes were soft as he looked at her through the rearview mirror.
“No biggie.” It was huge, but Nat wouldn’t let him know. He was just one more asshole who watched out for himself. It was the way of the world. She’d kind of thought they were friends, but friends didn’t mean much when weighed against business interests. Maybe Julian had even told Finn to do it. She was trouble, and if it came to her or Julian Lodge’s business interests, well, she knew where she stood—on the outside. And he’d paid his debt to her. Julian and Finn had already gotten her off one murder rap. She couldn’t even be really pissed at them. They were clean.
“She’s a cutter?” Cal sort of breathed out the question. Nat could hear the horror in his voice.
“It’s left over from my time with Hawk.” Nat kept her own voice completely even. No one needed to know she was screaming on the inside. “And I haven’t done it in a long time.”
Six months, three days. Some people used alcohol to numb the pain. Nat used, well, pain to numb the pain.
Finn turned in his seat. “Tell me you aren’t thinking about it right now.”
“Not your problem, Taylor.” She turned her head, looking out over the peaceful grounds. She’d been safe here, but nothing was forever. “So this whole ‘don’t leave town’ thing? Was the sheriff serious about that?”
She would have to find a place in town. And a job. Maybe there was a fast-food place. She’d be qualified for that.
“What is she talking about?” Cal asked.
Finn sighed, scrubbing a hand across his face. “She is pissed at me and pulling back into her shell. She thinks I betrayed her and that you’re going to kick her out because she’s twelve kinds of fucked up. She thinks she just lost her job and her home. She won’t show you her pain. She’ll bottle it up until she just has to pull a knife across her skin because the other thing that would work she cannot allow herself to do.”
Rage boiled in her veins. He’d neatly summed her up in a couple of quick sentences. “Fuck you, Finn.”
“Ah, there’s the anger, Nat,” Finn replied. “I’ll take it, sweetie. It’s better than nothing. I would let you beat on me, but that’s not what you need and you know it. Let Cal find you a Dom.”
“Again with the fuck you.” She couldn’t do it. Except she’d been thinking about it. Thinking about asking one of the attached Doms if he wouldn’t just scene with her. Maybe she could find one she could trust if she trusted his sub enough and if Cal was watching. She’d thought about asking Cal, but it seemed weird to ask her boss’s hubby to beat her ass for a while so maybe she could cry. She’d tossed the idea because it was stupid. She could handle it, and now that she would be alone, she wouldn’t even have to worry about getting caught.
“Natalie, I’m so sorry.” Cal looked back.
Sure he was. He was probably sorry he’d let her watch his kids. He should have known. The pink hair should have told him all he needed to know. Then there was the pierced tongue. “I’ll be gone tonight. Hey, I don’t have a car. Do you think someone can give me a ride into town?”
Cal started driving again, his foot on the accelerator. “No one will give you a ride into town, Natalie. Nor will you be allowed to be alone for the next little bit. I’ll call your therapist, and she can come down for a while.”
. The last thing she needed was to involve Janine in this shit. “Dude, I can’t afford to haul Janine away from her family.”
“Well, the good news is, I can,” Cal replied. “And you’ll be in the dungeon tonight where I can keep an eye on you. You think I’m kicking you out? I’m doing something worse, Natalie. I’m taking responsibility until such time as your therapist signs off on your being alone or you select a proper Dom. You can take a Dom tonight or Janine will be here in the morning. Everyone else has treated you with kid gloves. I can understand that, but right now what you need is a firm hand.”
She felt her eyes widen. “You asshole.”
Cal’s eyes met hers in the rearview mirror. “Not the worst I’ve been called.”
“You can’t keep me here.”
Finn’s jaw firmed to a stubborn line. “What do you think the sheriff will do if he knows you no longer have a high-priced lawyer, Nat? I think he’ll sell you to the DA as the only possible suspect and try to railroad you.”
He was right. The sheriff just wanted to close the case and get back to fishing. If hauling Nat to jail was his ticket to getting out of real police work, then she would be in an orange jumpsuit lickety-split. “You little fucker.”
Finn flushed. “Yeah, well, if it keeps you alive, then I’ll let you hate me.” His eyes slid back to Cal. “We discovered her penchant for cutting when she went a little too deep and nearly bled out.”
Fucking goddamn, motherfucking, traitor son of a bitch
. Why did he have to go there? Gretchen had been the only person at the time who had known, and she’d been Nat’s friend, not giving up the secret. Gretchen had helped make sure the cuts didn’t get infected. Gretchen had understood. But Kitten had walked in that night. It hadn’t been so bad. Everyone overreacted.
She hadn’t stared at her own blood as it drained into the bathtub wondering when she could float again. She hadn’t hoped that she wouldn’t wake up. She hadn’t. That had been just another nightmare.
“Nat, I love you. I would do almost anything for you. I won’t watch you die because of what that fucker did to you. He’s still in your head. He’s still holding you back. And you’re letting him win.” Finn sighed. “Let’s get back to the resort. I’ll call Dani. She’ll understand. Nat doesn’t have to go to the dungeon. I’ll stay with her.”
Cal turned toward the residential section, and Nat wondered how long Hawk would be with her. He’d taken her dignity, raped her body, and left her with scars that never healed because she opened them up again and again.
She hadn’t had sex in years. She hadn’t played. She’d loved to play. Submission had been her outlet, her relaxation. He’d taken it from her.
What if she could take it back?
Cal parked the car. He got out and, like the gentleman he was, opened the door for her. His hand moved to help her out, but he immediately pulled it back.
She wouldn’t even let a man help her out of a car.
“Please.” A simple word, but she had to force it past her throat. Hawk had made her beg, plead. The simplest of polite language felt like ashes in her mouth.
But Cal smiled and a spark hit her. She’d pleased him. It was still there, deep down inside, that nature of hers. It was buried under a mile of abuse and crap, but it was there. It was hers. His hand came out, the briefest of touches to help her safely to the ground, and then he let her go. He didn’t paw her, didn’t force her to his side.
“Thank you.” That was easier.
Finn stood to the side, obviously waiting for her to bash him. It still stung, but she could understand why he’d told Cal. She’d killed to save a friend, to save herself. What if he really did care about her? She might not deserve it, but she wasn’t stupid enough to push it away. And he couldn’t miss his kid’s birth because she was a fucked-up weirdo. “I’ll be fine, Finn. I’ll do what Cal asks me. And you’re right. I was thinking about it. I was planning it out. I was going to go to the kitchens and palm a knife. Julian made me get lasered so I wouldn’t have the excuse of shaving. And Finn took all the knives when I moved here.”
“Because I love you.” Finn had obviously gone past his anger, and now she could see plainly that he was afraid to approach her. He’d gambled. He’d placed her safety above their friendship.
Friendship was an act of bravery. Janine had told her that once. It was seemingly simple, but required an open heart, and that was so much harder than it sounded. It would be easier to tell him to fuck off and hide again, but she wouldn’t have done that before. She would never be the Natalie she’d been before Hawk, but she finally understood what Janine had been telling her for years. Getting back her power would take a conscious act of will. It wasn’t something that would just happen. She had to take it back. She had to decide who she wanted to be.