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Authors: Anya Breton

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BOOK: SweetlyBad
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Erica slumped in her seat.

She was lonely. Now that he’d been in her house, she
realized how much she’d missed having someone there with her. There was also
the problem of her bleeding heart. She’d wanted to help him out of the bind
he’d found himself in.

Would she never learn?

Loneliness and charity had been the reasons she got involved
with Jared in the first place. They were no reason to get involved with
this
pretty boy.

Even if he did own a beautiful Ferrari.

Erica pushed down on the gas pedal, urging herself away from
her house and wherever Drew was.

* * * * *

Erica gnawed a deep crevice in her index finger. The paint
was scraped around four of the bolts on her lift post as though they’d been
loosened with an air wrench. Someone
had
sabotaged her lift.

Drew wouldn’t have unfastened the bolts, videoed himself
doing it and then brought her the evidence. She’d known that. He probably
wasn’t the drama catalyst.

Now she needed him. And he’d disappeared.

She paced the three garage bays in front of the Ferrari and
Dodge Ram. If she called the sheriff, he’d want to see the footage Drew had
taken. Or at the very least he’d want to hear from Drew as a witness.

Erica headed into the office in search of Drew’s phone
number. He’d written it on his paperwork. She’d entered it into the computer.
Maybe he’d answer his precious phone.

She tapped her feet against the floor while the ringback
sounded in her ear. Drew’s voice mail replaced it. “You’ve reached Drew Haizea.
I’m busy doing something far more fun than talking to you. Leave a message if
you’re a hot gal, member of my family or want to give me money. Everyone else,
fuck off.”

Erica stared at the wall. How like the asshole she’d picked
up off the side of the road yesterday. How unlike the guy who had stomped out
of her house a half hour earlier.

The grating beep sounded. “Drew, it’s Erica.” After
listening to his recorded message, she didn’t want to speak her next words but
had little choice. “You were right. Someone did sabotage my lift. I’m sorry I
had to look for myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you. It was just…” She
exhaled noisily. “I like to be self-reliant so I always have to see things for
myself. It’s my problem, not yours. Please call me back as soon as you get
this.” Erica swallowed down a sigh. “I need your help.”

She paced the garage, waiting for a response. Minutes passed
with none.

This was the worst—the one time she admitted she needed
someone’s help, she couldn’t get any.

Everything in her demanded she confront Jared. But this was
serious. He could have hurt someone if Drew hadn’t witnessed the vandalism. And
if Jared was willing to endanger her business, who was to say he wouldn’t harm
her directly if she did confront him? She was all about being an independent
female. But she couldn’t hold her own against Jared Berry—president of the Cheshire
County gun club.

She needed back-up the next time she saw him—backup in the
form of Kevin or one of his deputies. Maybe she ought to file that restraining
order she’d threatened Jared with earlier after all.

That would be the official end of their relationship. It
seemed as though he needed the closure.

Erica eyed the scraped paint. If Jared had done that, he
needed way more than closure. He needed to be thrown in jail.

Exactly like Drew had said.

She dialed him one more time.

Chapter Nine

 

Drew checked the name
flashing on the screen of his vibrating phone.
Erica Pearce.
An image of
her full lips parted in a gasp dominated his mind. He’d struggled with the urge
to listen to her message for the past five minutes. Just as he’d struggled with
the urge to step out from behind the tree when she’d called to him on the dirt
road.

He shoved the phone back in his pocket. The device vibrated
against his legs, an insidious little reminder of what he’d stormed out on.

Even though he was avoiding her, he hadn’t made himself
leave her property. The Cape Cod was visible between the trunks of two large
oak trees from his vantage point perched on his suitcase. This reminded him of
the time Amanda told him he couldn’t take violin lessons so he’d run away from
home and slept in the servants’ quarters until Ellen carried him back to his
room.

Drew flopped against the rough bark of the tree behind him.
He was a grown man. Why was he acting like the eight-year-old boy he used to
be?

He closed his eyes against the answer. But it was there,
echoing in his mind where he couldn’t hide from it—he’d never grown up.

Everything had been a game for as long as he could remember.
If it wasn’t fun, he hadn’t wanted anything to do with it. And Aer forbid he
not get his way.

Nothing was going his way now. Pouting in the woods wasn’t
going to fix that. He’d vowed to help someone other than himself. One little
comment from Erica shouldn’t have derailed him so spectacularly. But it had.

Drew fished the phone out of his pocket. Too late. The
missed call note now read
two
. He thumbed the button for voice mail.

“Drew, it’s Erica. You were right. Someone did sabotage my
lift. I’m sorry I had to look for myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you.
It was just…”

Drew sat forward, waiting for the explanation.

She sighed and then continued. “I like to be self-reliant so
I always have to see things for myself. It’s my problem, not yours. Please call
me back as soon as you get this.” There was a pause. “I need your help.”

She needed his help. People didn’t need
his
help.
They needed Aston’s or Amanda’s and used Drew to get it. But Erica needed him.

Last week he would have chafed at the responsibility but
today…now…he liked the idea of someone needing him. Or perhaps he only liked
the idea of Erica needing him. Whatever the case, he was an asshole for making
her wait.

Drew filed away the first message. The second message began
even as he got to his feet and hauled the suitcase toward her house.

“It’s Erica again. I need to call the police so I can start
the process for a restraining order. But I can’t do that if I don’t have you
there.”

She wanted him there?

“You were a witness.”

Disappointment slowed his progress. Though her reason made
sense, he’d foolishly hoped she wanted him for support. But she’d already said
she was self-reliant.

“Please, Drew. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I never should have
said—” Erica halted. Her volume lowered as though she’d moved the phone away
from her mouth. “What…” And then it increased. “I’m sorry. We’re closed for the
weekend.”

There was a pause and then Erica said, “I’m sorry but I
can’t hear you.”

“That’s my Ferrari,” a female shouted—a sound muffled by
what Drew assumed was the garage door.

His grip tightened on the suitcase’s handle.

“What the hell?” Erica muttered. Louder she asked, “It is?”

“It was stolen yesterday,” the female replied. “Who brought
it in here?”

Don’t tell her
, Drew silently chanted. He didn’t
recognize the voice but whoever she was, she was up to no good. The Ferrari was
his. Erica knew it was because she’d verified it with the dealer in Boston.
Would she be smart? Or had her apologies been bullshit?

“Have you called the police?” Erica asked.

She’d been smart. Drew relaxed his grip on the phone.

“Yes,” the woman said. “But they’ve been no help finding it.
I tracked it here using GPS.”

Was that true? He knew nothing about GPS beyond entering an
address and following the arrows. If his car was traceable then maybe that’s
how Steven Brand had found him. And if Steven had…

Fear spiked through Drew’s chest.

Still Erica’s voice mail message went on. “Come back with
the police and proof of ownership and I’d be happy to give you the car once the
bill is settled. We won’t open again until Monday at seven.”

Footsteps scuffed the concrete floor. The door thudded shut.
And then Erica whispered into the phone, “I don’t know who that was but she
claims she owns your Ferrari. I really wish you’d answer your phone.” Air
puffed against the phone—another sigh. “This really sucks. I don’t like needing
anyone. But I need you. And you’re not here. I know there’s phone service at my
house and all the way down the hill so—” She snorted. “God, now I sound like a
nagging wife. I’m going to just hang—”

Metal slammed against metal. Erica gasped. And then someone
else spoke into the phone.

“I have your car and your mechanic,
rogue
,” the
unknown female said. “I’ll destroy one of those if you don’t turn up in the
next half hour. Time’s a tickin’.”

Drew froze where he was, listening for more clues.

“To save this message, press one.”

He nearly threw his phone again.
Who
was at Erica’s
garage? The strange female knew he’d been designated as a rogue witch—that made
her a member of one of the Underground factions. And that made her more
dangerous than a vanilla human.

It was a trap, that much he knew. Whoever waited at the
garage wanted to kill him. Would she risk the secret of the Underground by
harming Erica? He doubted it.

But that could be wishful thinking on his part.

Drew tugged at his collar, hating that he’d been placed in
this situation. By saving his own neck, he would potentially put Erica in
harm’s way. She’d been nothing but helpful. She didn’t deserve to be attacked.

On the other hand, this wasn’t the first threat since he’d
been designated rogue. It might not be the last. If he left now like he’d
planned
to, Erica wouldn’t be in further danger.

Coward!

Selfish wastrel.

Disgrace to the family.

Drew fisted his hands into his hair as the silent
recriminations taunted him. A hero he was not. When given the choice between
helping himself and helping another, he invariably picked himself. Look where
it had gotten him—destitute in the middle of the woods.

Would saving Erica be enough to show his mother he’d
changed?

It had better be.

* * * * *


It’s more than six
miles from my place to here,” Erica told the raven-haired beauty, who stared
out of the office windows with a keen eye. “Even if Drew ran eight-minute
miles, he can’t make it here in a half hour.”

“Drew could be two blocks away and it wouldn’t matter. He
isn’t going to come.” The woman gave a sardonic laugh. “He’ll save his ass
before he’ll save yours.”

Discreetly Erica checked her restraints. She’d been
handcuffed to the railing on the step between the office and the garage. The
cuffs were sturdy—no flimsy sex-toy cuffs for
this
woman. Though Erica
could walk to either end of the bar, she only had a few inches of give
side-to-side.

Maybe if she could keep the woman talking, someone would
drive by and see the lights were on when they should have been off. That became
more noticeable by the minute as the sun slid toward the horizon. “Then why did
you threaten him?”

“Because I want to flush him out of this Podunk town. Then
we’ll get him.”

Dread trickled into Erica’s gut. “We?”

“We—there are three of us.” The woman sent her a sharklike
smile. “We’ll catch him no matter which way he goes.”

“Why do you want to catch him so badly?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“So he didn’t fuck you and then leave you for another
woman?”

The woman faced her. A malevolent gleam flickered in her
dark eyes, hinting Erica had hit the nail on the head. Then she shuttered her
expression.

The woman lifted her nose and sneered. “I’d ask if that was
experience talking but you’re too fat for him. He only dates models and beauty
queens.”

Erica made herself laugh. “Like you?”

She sniffed haughtily. “I was once Miss New Hampshire.”

She snorted. “That had to be a
long
time ago.”

“You vanilla
bitch
!”

The woman charged across the office in a clatter of clacking
heels. Her talon-like claws dug into Erica’s throat. With the pinching grip,
she drew Erica up onto the tips of her toes. Erica’s wrists went taut in the
cuffs. The cool metal scraped and chafed against her skin.

Her attacker snarled at eye level. “I’m more beautiful than
you could ever hope to be. I’ll still be more beautiful when I’m in my twilight
years and you’re dead of a heart attack from all the shit you shovel in that
bloated gullet you call a mouth.”

Though Erica winced in pain, she wasn’t about to let that
insult stand. She hadn’t survived bullies in school, countless barbs sent by
her sister and asshole boyfriends for nothing. “You know what the difference
between me and you is?”

“Forty pounds and a beauty regimen?”

Erica leaned back and brought her head down. “I don’t need
cuffs to subdue you.” She lunged forward, smacking her head into the woman’s
nose.

The bitch’s hands shot up as she howled in pain. But she
wasn’t subdued. Not yet. Erica followed up the attack with a kick at her
three-inch heels. The bitch stumbled, ultimately falling to her knees, where
Erica smashed her elbow into the bony portion of her nose. Still the bitch
wasn’t subdued—the fact that she moaned in her balled-up pose on the floor
meant she was conscious.

Kicking her might do permanent damage. But it wasn’t as if
Erica could throw a punch—not cuffed to the railing. All she had at her
disposal was her legs. And if Erica didn’t knock her unconscious, the bitch
would only get back up and do something
worse
than cuff her to a metal
bar.

Erica pulled her boot back, winced and then kicked out with
what she hoped was enough force to knock her attacker unconscious without
killing her. The moaning quieted. Erica’s conscience screamed.

* * * * *

Drew touched down on the roof of Pearce Auto-body,
breathless and sweating like a sumo wrestler touring Egypt in July. Air-jumping
across the tree line for six miles in twelve minutes had been reckless,
especially at dusk. A vanilla human could have spotted him.

He’d been willing to take the chance. Besides, he’d always
heard an adage that the human mind created plausible explanations for
implausible things it witnessed. A male rocketing through the air with no
visible propellant would definitely count as something implausible.

Drew floated to the ground behind the garage. He softened
his steps, creeping around the side until he could see into the office windows.
A figure was sprawled on the floor. Drew’s stomach dipped in worry.

He was too late. Erica was unconscious, perhaps
dead
because of him. She’d done nothing but be the tow truck driver unlucky enough
to pick him up.

“Criminy,” a female said. “Could you have gotten sharper
cuffs, you bitch?”

Erica? Relief rushed through him, nearly knocking him off
his feet.

If she spoke then who was unconscious on the floor?

Drew hurried the remainder of the way, streaking past the
windows to the office entrance. Erica gasped and then went quiet as if she’d
seen his shadow. He tugged on the doorknob. It didn’t budge.

While picking the lock was possible, he knew an easier way
to get in. Drew walked the six feet to garage bay three. He called on a little
more Air magic, focusing it into a punch he directed at the big red button on
the other side. The door rolled along its track. He ducked under the first
chance he got.

And discovered Erica cuffed to a metal bar outside the
office.

She stared at him as though she’d never seen him. “Drew?”

This was familiar. It had happened an hour ago. This time he
wasn’t going to stomp out in a huff.

But he didn’t stop the bitterness in his voice. “You didn’t
expect me to come?”

“She said you wouldn’t. And…I live six miles away. How did
you get here so quickly?”

Drew glanced at the slumped woman. Black hair, trim
body—that described at least an eighth of the women he’d been with. He needed a
look at her face. But first he needed to free Erica. And get answers.

“What happened?” he asked rather than lying about how he’d
made the trip.

“Somehow she got in while I was in the back.”

Erica left off the part about how she’d been talking to
his
voice mail. He didn’t offer it while he examined how to unfasten the cuffs.
They looked like law enforcement grade. He could probably pick the lock with
Air if he got a schematic of the locking mechanism but she’d know he’d done
something out of the ordinary if he did. There had to be a key.

“As soon as I spotted her, I couldn’t breathe,” Erica said.
“It was like someone had knocked the air out of me, except I passed out before
it came back. I woke up cuffed to this bar.” She rattled the restraints against
the metal as though he needed help figuring out which bar. “She got close
enough for me to headbutt her in the nose. Then I knocked her over. I kicked
her in the head for good measure. I don’t know how long she’ll be out. We need
to call the police.”

“No.”

“Drew, she said there are two others waiting for you to
escape Stoddard. We
have
to call the police.” Erica swung to the end of
the bar, angling her leg toward the counter where the witch had dropped the
phone. Her foot was short by at least six inches.

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