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Authors: Jackie Ashenden

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BOOK: Take Me Deeper
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A feral little bail-jumper with the prettiest tits he'd ever seen.

Not that he should be looking at them, considering he'd come to take her back into custody and that she'd been running drugs, which made her scum of the lowest sort. Not to mention the fact that she had a smart mouth.

A gorgeous mouth.

Shit.

Jerking his eyes back to the road, Zane gripped tight to the wheel, trying to ignore the woman in the back. Except he couldn't get out of his head the sight of her pale skin and lacy red bra.

And the scratch down the middle of her stomach.

This time when he flicked her another glance, he kept his gaze firmly on the red streak where the window latch had caught her, and, sure enough, it was oozing blood and looking painful. The blood had even started to stain the waistband of her jeans.

A pathetic sight. She was bleeding, her T-shirt torn open, her hands cuffed behind her back, her hair falling everywhere.

Vulnerable…

His breath hitched. He'd always had a weakness for vulnerable women, but that was how all the shit had gone down with Charlie, and he couldn't let himself get involved in something like that again, he just couldn't. Which meant he should be heading straight on down the highway until they got to Lone Star where he could then get rid of her and never think of her again.

Then again, Quinn would be extremely pissed if she got blood in his truck.

Tell yourself it's about Quinn, sure.

Bullshit. He wasn't telling himself anything. He didn't want her getting blood on him either, which made the decision simple.

A strip mall was coming up on his right and he turned off the highway without a second thought, easily finding a spot in the massive lot. Then, after a moment's debate, he got out of the truck, went to the back door, and pulled it open, climbing in beside her.

She didn't move, her breathing heavy, deep and regular.

For a second he indulged his curiosity, staring down at her. Pretty little thing, but he could see the lines of hardship around her eyes and mouth. Life hadn't been easy on this girl, that was for sure. Then again, if she'd been caught running drugs, then that was a given.

He frowned, reaching out to push a lock of silky black hair off her face. Yeah, so young. And there was nothing like sleep to make someone look even younger. Jesus, what the hell had she gotten herself into? And why?

When that guy had burst out of the bar and started shooting, she'd looked terrified, which was understandable since the guy had clearly been sent to stop her from testifying. She'd looked terrified the moment she'd realized why Zane had come for her too.

She's not safe in jail either.

The thought was an uncomfortable one. A complication he sure as hell didn't need. Because if she wasn't safe in jail, then what the hell was he supposed to do with her? Could he really turn her over to whoever held her bail bond? If it wasn't Lone Star, that was, because sometimes they did bail bonds, sometimes they took on bounty hunting jobs from other bail bondsmen. Whatever, if he did turn her over, she'd have to go to court and maybe testify against some of the worst criminals in the state. And if she didn't do that, then she'd go straight to jail.

Ah, Jesus, why was he thinking about it like this? Situations like these never turned out well, and he of all people should know that. Besides, she was a skip. A criminal. A drug courier. He really shouldn't give a shit what the hell happened to her.

Annoyed with himself, he matter-of-factly grabbed the two halves of her torn T-shirt and tied them together so her bra was covered, all the while trying to avoid brushing her skin with his fingertips. She shifted as he did, murmuring something in her sleep as she turned her head and slowly tipped all the way over onto her side. The movement made the light, flowery scent of her wrap itself around him, tinged with the metallic smell of blood.

Something cold shifted in his chest.

He'd smelled that combination before. Charlie in his arms, her pretty blue dress soaking up all the blood, those luminous gray eyes dimming slowly, and he couldn't stop the blood, couldn't fix what had happened, powerless…

Cursing under his breath, Zane shoved himself out of the truck, closing the door behind him and locking it the same way he locked all his bad memories away. Then, ignoring the cold feeling that had settled down inside him, he turned toward the mall stores.

The shopping didn't take him very long and he was back within twenty minutes. Iris was still fast asleep, and, unfortunately, he hadn't come to any decisions about what to do with her, which was a problem. He was a guy who liked to plan and strategize, and he didn't take too kindly to surprises who turned all his precious plans upside down.

And she was one hell of a surprise.

Irritated, he decided that in the short term the most pressing thing was getting that scratch seen to, though he didn't particularly want to do it in the middle of a strip mall parking lot. His alternative was taking her to Lone Star and doing it there, but something in his gut was urging him to avoid going back there with her until he'd figured out what to do. His brothers would no doubt want her returned to Dallas pronto, and given his need to get back to Fort Bragg with the minimum of fuss, that would be the most logical action to take. She wasn't his problem after all. Except the cartel didn't take kindly to snitches, in jail or out. In fact, snitches tended to die.

Cursing under his breath, Zane got back into the truck and stared out the windshield for a couple of moments. Then he reached over and grabbed the file Quinn had given him from the glove compartment. In it was all the information Lone Star had managed to find about Iris Callahan, which wasn't much. Only her place of work and the address of a motel near the airport that appeared to be where she was living. Wouldn't take long to get there from here and at least he could see to that scratch properly.

He didn't ask himself why he felt the need to take care of the woman in the backseat, because that was something he really didn't want to revisit. So he busied himself with figuring out the quickest way to get to her motel and checking the rearview mirror to make sure no one was tailing them. There was a reasonable chance that the guy back at the bar who'd been shooting at them would also know where Iris was staying, so Zane was going to have to be careful. Not because he didn't think he could handle an idiot like that, but because dealing with the prick would be an added complication, and he really didn't need any complications.

Too late.

Yeah, okay, Iris was a complication, but only a minimal one so far—if you didn't count the guy who was chasing her, that was. And he could keep her minimal, if he got her cleaned up and then delivered her back to Lone Star. Quinn and Rush could handle anyone trying to hit her before she was delivered safely back into custody, and once she was, that was the end of the complications. Easy.

Yet for some reason the whole idea of doing that sat uneasily in Zane's gut, and it was still there some fifteen minutes later when he finally pulled into the motel parking lot, a cheap, shitty place, probably built sometime in the fifties and hadn't had anything done to it since.

Seeing no point in waking Iris just yet, he went to the reception desk and managed to talk his way into getting another key to her room, telling the fat, balding, and distinctly uninterested guy behind the desk that he was her boyfriend. The guy didn't ask any questions, barely even looking at Zane as he pushed a key over to him.

Zane scowled at that too. What kind of setup was this when a complete stranger could talk a staff member into giving out the key to a woman's room? Without even a request for ID?

Unimpressed, he went back out to the truck and opened the door. Then he pulled the still soundly sleeping Iris into his arms and carried her up some stairs to the motel's upper story where her room was located.

The inside was as cheap and crappy as the outside. Two queen beds, worn orange carpet on the floor, a TV with a cracked plastic case, and a mural on one wall featuring a desert scene with lots of cacti. The whole place smelled too, of mold, old cigarettes, and desperation.

Zane glanced down at the woman in his arms. She was so light, so insubstantial she barely weighed anything at all, and yet her sleep was the heavy, deep sleep of the exhausted. Her black lashes, lying on her pale cheeks in lush, silky fans, couldn't quite hide the dark shadows beneath them, and there were lines around the full softness of her mouth.

Disturbed for reasons he couldn't name, Zane laid her on the bed and then stood back, gazing at her. Her arms were caught behind her back because of the cuffs. He bent, shifting her slightly so he could unlock them. She didn't move, not even when he chafed her wrists to make sure her blood flow was okay.

Dammit. He wanted to leave her hands free, but he suspected that the moment she woke up, she'd probably try to get away from him again. Which wasn't happening, not with that other guy still out there. So after a moment of internal debate, he raised one hand above her head and cuffed her wrist to the headboard. She gave a little snort at that and turned onto her side, pillowing her free hand beneath her cheek in a curiously childlike posture.

A feeling shifted in his chest. A familiar feeling. The same feeling that had hit him the first day he'd gone along with his father and brothers on a pickup and set eyes on eighteen-year-old Charlie Jones. They'd been there to get her older brother, and her father tried to stop them, shouting and screaming and throwing punches. Rush and Quinn and his father had handled the older Jones, while Zane had comforted Charlie, telling her it was okay and that her brother would be okay too.

Charlie had looked at him like he was her hero, her savior. As if he wasn't just a boy, standing on the sidelines watching helplessly as his father got drunk every night and his brothers went off the rails. Unable to do anything to prevent it.

That look in her eyes had gone straight to his head like a slug of his father's best bourbon, and he'd decided then and there to be that hero for her. Fix the situation she was in. Make a difference.

He'd fallen in love with her and she with him.

Until her brother had screwed up a second time and they'd had to come back for him. And Charlie had died.

Zane shoved the feeling away, got up, and left the motel room.

Never again. Never the fuck again.

Chapter 4

Iris woke up with the most incredible feeling of well-being. In fact, she couldn't remember the last time she'd opened her eyes after a night's sleep and felt refreshed. Especially the past couple of months. Usually she woke up at some insanely early hour of the morning, all her senses on high alert, convinced she'd heard someone trying to get into her motel room.

Not this time apparently.

She lay on the bed and stared at the dingy ceiling, her head pleasantly empty of thought.

After a moment, she stretched her arms above her head, only to be brought up short by the cold bite of metal against the skin of her left wrist. Confused, she twisted around, spotting the handcuffs that were holding her tethered to the bed.

Handcuffs? What the hell?

“You're awake. Finally.” The voice was masculine and horribly familiar.

Iris turned her head.

On the other bed, a man sat with his elbows on his knees, long fingers loosely linked between them, searingly blue eyes cold and sharp.

Zane Redmond. The bounty hunter.

Oh shit.

He'd caught her at the bar and she'd tried to escape. Then that freak from Dallas had followed her and shot at her, and they'd managed to escape. And then she'd fallen asleep in his damn truck.

She blinked, her mouth feeling dry and cottony. “How long have I been asleep?”

Zane glanced down at the chunky, expensive-looking watch on his left wrist. “About four hours. I thought you were never going to wake up.”

Four hours? She'd been asleep for four hours while a complete stranger watched over her? And not just any stranger, a bounty hunter intent on taking her back to the police. Jesus, she must be insane. It was only that she'd felt so tired and as he'd driven her away, she'd known there was nothing she could do. That she couldn't fight anymore. She was caught and some part of her had even felt a little relieved, as if the ax had fallen.

Sure, that guy had been after her, but she'd had the peculiar feeling that it was okay because Zane wouldn't let anything happen to her. He would protect her.

She was safe.

Safe? Are you nuts?

Iris turned away from him abruptly, a weird shiver going all the way through her. Yeah, she
was
nuts. Nothing about her life had ever been safe, especially where men were concerned. In fact, men tended to be the problem, and if she thought this one was any different, she was deluding herself.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“In your motel room.”

“How did you—”

“I have a file on you, which included the address of this motel.”

A file. Of course he had a file. “What about that guy back at the bar?”

“The one that was going to kill you?” He paused and she turned back to look at him before she could stop herself, getting trapped in the aching intensity of his eyes. “I've been keeping a lookout for him, but so far he hasn't turned up. That doesn't mean he doesn't know you're here though.”

Familiar fear began to twist through her. She let out a breath, trying to calm the hell down. “We've got to get out of here in that case. He'll turn up sooner or later and then—”

“Wait.” The word was flat and icy. “Tell me who he is.”

“You know already. You guessed back in the truck.” She pulled on the handcuff holding her wrist to the bed. “Get these off me. I'm not going to escape.”

His gaze was steady and sharper than a drawer full of knives. “I don't believe you. I think escaping is the first thing you're going to do.”

The fear twisted tighter, made worse by the unaccustomed feeling of being restrained. She tugged on her wrist again, the metal digging into her skin. “I promise I won't. Scout's honor.”

He snorted. “Something tells me you were never a Girl Scout.”

“Okay, okay. My mother's grave then.”

“According to our records, your mom is still alive.”

She bit her lip. “Look, if that guy comes, he'll try and shoot you too. You really want that to happen?”

The look on Zane's handsome face was maddeningly unconcerned. “He could try. But I guarantee he won't succeed.”

“Oh sure. What are you? Superman?”

“No. I'm just good at protecting myself.”

“Yeah, well, you might be a ninja, but I'm not, okay?”

Something about his long, hard mouth softened. “I'm not going to let anything happen to you, Iris.”

The way he said her name sent a small electric shock down her spine. She ignored it, staring belligerently at him. “Of course you won't. You want your money, right?”

He didn't look away, his gaze implacable. “You can't escape the law. No one can.”

Cursing under her breath, she turned her head and stared at the ceiling instead. “I was right. You're the fucking Terminator.”

There was a frustrating silence.

“Tell me what the hell you were thinking of, running drugs for the cartels,” Zane finally said, though of course, again he made it sound less like an invitation and more like an order.

“Money. Glamor. Excitement. You know, the usual.” Iris glared at the ceiling, testing the handcuffs again. Her hands were small but not quite small enough to slip out of the metal ring, dammit.

“Stupidity in other words.” His tone was stiff with disapproval. “Or are you an addict too?”

Frustration burned inside her. God, she hated feeling trapped and she so did
not
want to have the conversation about how stupid she'd been, especially not with an asshole bounty hunter.

“Can we skip the getting-to-know-yous?” she said, impatient. “If you want to take me in, just take me in.” And then something occurred to her. She turned to look at him once more. “Actually, let me ask you a question. Why
haven't
you taken me in? Why did you bring me back here?”

His gaze dropped to her front. “You needed that scratch cleaned up.”

That scratch? Puzzled, Iris followed his gaze, looking down at herself. And then remembered. She'd hurt herself on the window latch at the bar and her stupid T-shirt had torn in half. Except she was now wearing a loose-fitting black one that was far too big for her. Where had that come from? Frowning, she pulled up the cotton with her free hand to examine her injury. The wound had been cleaned and what looked like antiseptic cream applied.

“I had to get you a new T-shirt,” Zane added. “I did owe you one after all.”

For a second Iris just stared down at herself, not at all sure how to process this. He'd cleaned up the scratch and bought her a new T-shirt. He'd taken care of her.

No one had ever taken care of her before, not one person. Not even her mother, not that her mother had been the maternal type. At all.

Slowly Iris turned to him, this time rolling onto her side. She stared at the strong, lean lines of his face, the high forehead, the sharp blade of a nose, that long, hard mouth. The face of a man who knew what he wanted and would go out and get it no matter what. She knew men like that. She'd dealt with them before. Dylan, for example, who'd always seemed so caring—at least he had right up until the day she'd been arrested. She'd used her one phone call on him, but he'd never answered. She'd known then that he hadn't been for real, that she'd been duped, used. Stupid, naïve little trailer-park girl that she was.

“What do you want from me?” she asked bluntly, because of course he wanted something. No one did anything for free.

Something that looked like surprise flared briefly in his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you cleaned me up. You bought me a new shirt. And I'm here in my motel room, not back in custody. Which means you want something from me, right?”

His winged black brows plunged, as if she'd mortally offended him. “I don't want anything from you. You were hurt so I patched you up. That's it.”

“Right, and you would have done that if I'd been a guy too.”

His gaze narrowed into strips of sapphire. “I don't hurt women. I protect them.”

“Oh, don't give me that Texas Mama-brought-me-up-right guy shit. You want something, all men do. So just tell me what it is.”

He'd gone very still, and, yeah, she'd offended him all right. He fairly bristled with it. “And what is it that you think I want?”

“Probably sex.” Iris stared at him. “I mean that's usually what men want. Though I have to say, you're the first who's been afraid to come right out and say it.”

He was silent, his expression completely impenetrable. “I don't want to have sex with you, Iris,” he said finally and with cold emphasis. “But if I did, I certainly wouldn't need to ask for it. You'd be giving it to me way before that happened.”

Another strange shiver went through her as he said the words, his cool arrogance getting under her skin in a way she didn't like. She should have found the fact that he didn't want her reassuring and yet the distaste in his tone rankled.

How annoying. She knew she appealed to men on a certain level and that had certainly come in handy in the past. It had also led to a lot of pain. Still, it wasn't as if she had much choice here, and if he truly wasn't attracted to her, then that limited her options. Iris didn't like having her options limited since she generally didn't have many of them to start with.

“Fine,” she said crossly. “Have it your way. But I could make it worth your while to let me go.” She rolled onto her back. “I give a mean blow job, just saying.” Not that she particularly wanted to give him a blow job. He was so cold he'd probably freeze her tongue off.

Hey, remember what's going on here. You're handcuffed to a bed by a bounty hunter who wants to return you to jail. Where you're going to get shanked. If you don't get shot by the Dallas dickhead first.

Zane was silent.

Maybe he was thinking about blow jobs. If so, good, because she was getting really sick of these goddamn handcuffs.

“Tell me about the man who's chasing you.”

Iris groaned. “Not this again. You
know
why he's chasing me. Drugs. Cartels. Me ending up dead so I don't have to testify.”

“What about the drugs?” he asked relentlessly. “Why would you want to get involved in something like that?”

“Can we go with stupidity and never speak of it again?”

The bed beside her squeaked and suddenly a long finger caught her beneath the chin, turning her head so she was pinned to the bed by that inexorable gaze. “No,” he said. “We can't.”

She wanted to jerk her head away, but he must have felt her muscles tense because he gripped her chin, preventing her. “Why do you want to know?” she burst out, frustrated. “Why the hell would you care why anyway?”

“Because I'm trying to decide whether to turn you in or not.”

Iris stared at him in shock. “What do you mean?”

“If those assholes are after you, then you certainly won't be safe in jail. Which means I'm going to have to figure out some way to protect you. But that's going to be hard for me if you're a willing part of that goddamn cartel.”

A wave of something she couldn't identify swept through her. Was he actually offering to help her?

You can't trust him. You know you can't.

“Why would you do that?” Her voice had gone weirdly thick. “You don't even know me.”

“No, I don't. But I don't like seeing a woman in trouble either.”

She let out a shaky breath. “Okay. Well…that's good. So…uh…why don't you let me go and I'll get out of here. Make sure that guy won't ever—”

“That's not going to happen.”

She blinked at him. His fingers were gripping her chin, but somehow his thumb was moving along the side of her jaw, a soft back and forth that sent chills through her. She tried to ignore it. “Why not? Look, I'm sure you don't want to be saddled with me. Let me go and I'll disappear, you'll never see me again.”

Those deep, cold eyes were drifting down to her mouth and suddenly they didn't seem so cold anymore. “Like I said, not going to happen. That bastard won't stop until you're dead, which means you're going to need some protection while we figure out how to deal with it.”

Iris sucked in a breath. The touch of his thumb along her jaw was insanely distracting. “Why? Why would you do that for me?”

His gaze returned to hers, an icy winter lake heated by volcanic currents. “Why don't you give me that blow job and we'll find out?”

—

Her dark, velvety brown gaze went wide, her mouth opening, color creeping into her cheeks.

“Or else,” he said, in the same soft tone, “you could just tell me why I'd want to do that for you.”

Her cheeks flamed, anger sparking in the depths of her eyes. “Bastard.”

“Well, you did offer.” Satisfied that he'd gotten the upper hand for once, Zane let go of her chin. It was harder to do than he thought. Warmth lingered on his fingertips, the touch of her skin imprinted there like a burn. She'd felt soft, smooth, and it had been a long time since he'd felt soft, smooth skin under his hand.

And no, his own dick didn't count.

“I've changed my mind,” she snapped. “It'd be like blowing a snowman anyway.”

Her obvious outrage was amusing and he nearly caught himself in a smile. Which was stupid. He wasn't here to smile and stroke pretty little skips who were offering blow jobs. He was here to—

Collect said skip and deliver her to custody, asshole.

Except that's exactly what he
wasn't
going to do, and he still couldn't quite figure out why.

Maybe it was the Charlie factor. Maybe it was being a soldier at heart and his training not letting him leave a civilian in danger.

Or maybe it's because you're actually hoping for that blow job.

BOOK: Take Me Deeper
11.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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