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Jealousy was her sin. Lust was her savior. An ordinary woman did an extraordinary thing. Stepped out of her box, and tore down the confining walls.
Guilt gave her purpose, fueled her determination to find her missing sister. A small-town girl must learn to survive in a tough, unforgiving city. In a world of dangerous lies, dark secrets and hungry shadows.
She finds an ally in a famous NFL star; a man whose sexy vitality rivals his drive to win. He’s a force to be reckoned with, a god on and off the field. But his reckless passion and damaged soul may prove to be an even greater danger.
Her love for him may only destroy her. Because in the end, can she save him?
Publisher’s Note: This steamy contemporary romance contains elements of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and power exchange.
The office building was eerily quiet. Employees scurried like rats abandoning a sinking ship. Doors swung shut, chatter evaporated, and the air grew still around a water cooler that looked hastily abandoned. Hustling behind Ms. Madison, we barely kept up. Not that she gave a damn. For a small woman, she moved with robust purpose, her steps brisk as she led us toward her office.
Our footsteps echoed through the large hall, pounding a rhythm that matched the tempo of my failing heart. We passed a trio too slow to conceal themselves behind a closed door. Gazes averted, they didn’t dare look our way, fearing a blast of our boss’ wrath.
Passing the armed guard always stationed at her office, Ms. Madison flung open her door then took up residence behind the massive podium that was her desk, its purpose solely to intimidate. My manager and I stalled pathetically at the door, afraid to enter the lion’s den. Anxiety curled in my stomach, tangling a constricting knot. Reluctantly we entered, closing the door behind us with grave finality.
“Where the hell is Vixen?”
The roar shot across the room, a harsh, sobering jolt. Eyes wide, I looked beseechingly to my manager, praying she’d have an answer to appease our enraged boss. Ms. Madison was a tyrant wrapped in a cloak of steely, unchallenged authority. Her presence alone was enough to set my knees knocking.
She ran Escape, an elite sex club that catered to the most notorious and powerful men. For a king’s ransom, any wish could be granted, any desire fulfilled. But things happened here that couldn’t be explained. People disappeared, lives were erased, and fear glazed the eyes of every skittish employee. Judging by what I’d seen so far, there was every reason to be terrified.
Laurie, my manager, visibly trembled, sweat beading like tiny marbles on her top lip. Watching her stammer helplessly, I swallowed down a nervous sound. She suffered the brunt of our boss’ anger. As her lowly office assistant, I was collateral damage.
Apparently, Laurie idled in silence for too long. The dagger Ms. Madison unsuccessfully tooled as a letter opener summersaulted through the air, arced dangerously in our direction. A shriek flew from my throat when it lodged with chilling precision into the wall behind us, effectively freezing every muscle in my body.
Fuck! Okay lady, you already have my attention!
Biting hard on my bottom lip, I reminded myself why I took this job, why I was still here. I could endure anything if it meant getting the answers I needed. Hopefully I’d live long enough.
Ms. Madison awaited an answer to her question. We couldn’t locate Vixen, Escape’s most coveted escort. Her session was scheduled to start in ten minutes. The ex-contortionist and former pageant queen was in extremely high demand. It was said she had magic in her vagina, and somewhere in the building was a man who’d paid three times my yearly salary to see his rabbit disappear.
It was Laurie’s job to make sure these escapes went off without a hitch. And unfortunately, she had to answer to Ms. Madison. Our boss circled her desk, gaze sharp and deadly as an eagle’s. Instinctively, I stole a step back, the urge to flee overwhelming. Ms. Madison was a beautiful woman, her features deceptively delicate. It was her eyes—hard, shrewd, cobalt eyes that swam with intolerance and contempt.
“I-I will find her, ma’am,” Laurie managed to bleat out when our boss stopped in front of us.
The air in the room seemed to chill as if anticipating certain carnage. Unexpectedly, Ms. Madison’s lips pulled into a thin smile, Laurie’s answer thankfully acceptable.
But of course, I thought wryly, Ms. Madison would allow no alternative. Vixen had to be found. Nothing could go wrong with these escapes.
The hard blue gaze abruptly turned to me, and despite my inner turmoil, I somehow endured the silent perusal. Fear pressed tight in my chest, fear she would see through me, sense deception in every quietly expelled breath.
Could she sense my lies? Did she know my true identity?
I adjusted my glasses, unable to help the tremors agitating my fingers. Her gaze almost tarried long enough to confirm my suspicions, but as abruptly as I’d caught her attention, I was dismissed.
Relief swept through me, but I knew it was short lived. I was far from out of danger.
“You make sure that you do, or you’ll be gone.”
Ms. Madison floated behind us, addressing Laurie as she easily plucked the letter-opener from the wall. My manager visibly blanched, and I knew, like me, she’d heard the undeniable threat in the word ‘gone’, sensed it in the implement our boss now handled too casually. ‘Gone’, unfortunately, did not mean fired.
Trembling, I watched Ms. Madison’s back, her finger as it lazily traced the jagged hole now marring the beautiful, silk wallpaper. Her rapt fascination and unhurried strokes added to the tense, prolonged silence. Moments ticked by, causing Laurie and I to exchange confused glances.
Was she done with us? Were we dismissed?
Unsure of what to do, and afraid to make a move, we stood like marble statues.
Our boss continued to fondle the paper, seeming remorseful at the damage she’d inflicted. It would appear people were disposable, but fine decor was not.
Without turning, she bellowed with a startling fury, “Why the fuck are you still here?”
That was all it took to have us scrambling from the room. In the hall, I started to speak, adrenaline pumping like wildfire through my veins. Laurie shot a worried glance at the hulking guard then silenced me with a sharp stare.
This was insane. How did I get dragged into this mess? I had nothing to do with the escorts or the men they serviced. The only reason Laurie had insisted I accompany her to Ms. Madison’s office was because she feared being alone with the witch. Not that I blamed her, but I should’ve gone home hours ago. My work day was over, and I’d looked forward to escaping Escape. I’d made plans.
I followed Laurie down the sumptuous hall into a waiting elevator, my thoughts in chaos. I needed to reassess my position here, develop a new strategy. Things were escalating rapidly, tensions peaking higher. I felt no closer to finding my missing sister than when I’d started this job four weeks ago. Sighing inwardly, I forced my heart rate to slow.
Patience… If I intended to find Ashley, I needed to exercise caution, slowly chip away at the secrets surrounding Escape. I’d been lucky to get this far. To a small-town girl who’d never set foot outside of Elsie, Michigan, New York City was a savage place, and I was clearly a sheep among wolves.
Still rattled by the encounter with Ms. Madison, I stepped off the elevator behind my manager several floors below. Laurie immediately pulled out her phone, the fear in her eyes replaced with a frenzied desperation.
I started to wish her luck with finding Vixen, but decided against it. I wanted no part of this clusterfuck. Although, sadly, I couldn’t help but wonder if Vixen was yet another girl gone missing, or perhaps she was purposefully shirking her duties. I’d heard the ugly rumors about Vixen’s client tonight. He was an evil man, well known for his deviant proclivities.
I watched Laurie pace the length of the hall. She was a basket case, always a ball of frayed nerves and untidy thoughts. Escape was her life. Her only companions were five cats she treated better than the humans unfortunate enough to occupy the space around her. Most days I was her servant instead of her office assistant.
My cell vibrated in my pocket, a reminder of my ruined plans. I’d promised to watch a preseason football game with my roommate, Jen. We were both fanatics, and although she was more about the aesthetics of the game—hot men with tight ends—we were both immensely passionate. No doubt she was calling to give me an update on my long-time obsession, Jason Grant, wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks—a god on and off the football field.
I stole a quick glance at my phone, then back to my manager who was now barking like a rabid dog at someone on the line. Her harsh tone stung every nerve, and I eased away as quietly as I could, heading down the hall to the office we shared.
An evening of football and fried, fatty food was just what I needed to regroup my thoughts. I could still feel Ms. Madison’s troubling stare along my skin like the scrape of a cold blade. Suppressing a shiver, I hastily packed my belongings, eager for the comfort and safety of home. Not wanting to waste time, I decided to call Jen back from the train. I’d just tossed my sunglasses into my bag when the office door flew open with a bang.
Laurie stood in the doorway, hands planted at her narrow hips, eyes as wild as a trapped, doomed animal. I sighed inwardly. If only I could take her out back and put her out of her misery.
Ignoring her, I pushed my arms into my light sweater and pulled the strap of my bag over my shoulder, hoping she’d pick up on the obvious.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” she asked, brows stapled to her hairline. “Don’t think you can just skulk out of here!”
Skulk? With a tilt of my head, I considered that and then said evenly, “I wasn’t skulking, just trying to sneak out quietly without being noticed.”
It was irritation narrowing her eyes, I was sure of it. She asked, “Do you think you’re funny?”
Expelling a long-suffering breath, I shook my head. It wasn’t often I challenged my manager, but I was tired, overworked, and growing more and more worried about Ashley. I was also still annoyed with Laurie for pulling me into the mind-fuck meeting with the Evil Queen.
“I need your help,” Laurie barked, closing the distance between us. “I’m your manager. You’re my assistant, so you need to assist me!”
She enjoyed making this distinction. I groaned internally, biting back another cheeky response. Instead, I said, “I’m sorry, Laurie. I was supposed to leave three hours ago. I can’t stay tonight.”
“That wasn’t a request. We have to find Vixen. I just spoke to her chauffeur. He dropped her at home a half hour ago.”
“Well, it looks like you found her,” I replied, not liking her use of the term ‘we’.
“She’s not answering her phone.”
I gave her a long look. “Maybe she doesn’t want to be found.”
Swallowing at the dry lump in my throat, I clarified. “Maybe she’s done with this place. Maybe she’s quit.”
Laurie looked horrified at the thought, then appalled I could even suggest such a thing. “You can’t quit Escape! No one quits Escape! It’s not allowed.”
Her words had a chill whispering over my shoulders, but before I could blink she was in my face, eyes wide, anger plucking her cheeks red. “And you better hope to God that’s not the case, or the next time we’re found, it might be with letter openers lodged in our skulls!”
Again with the plural, but she’d made her point. If Vixen wasn’t found, we were both going down. Laurie would make sure of it. My night of frivolous entertainment would have to wait. Football would have to wait. Jason Grant would have to wait. Laurie paced for a few minutes before pivoting back to me, lips set in a stubborn line.
“I’m going to her apartment. I’ll drag her ass here if I have to.”
A finger wagged in my face. “You!”
Her wild, calculating eyes had drops of alarm trickling down my back.
“You have to go to the escape! Stall him!”
“What?” Head already shaking, my feet pedaled backward until I met a wall. Laurie had done it—finally lost her damn mind.
“That’s the only way to buy some time,” she rushed out, quickly advancing as her thoughts coalesced. “Go to the escape and stall Vixen’s client. Don’t let him know there’s a problem, just keep him distracted for as long as you can.”
“I need to get Vixen.”
“No way! Red Skull was jailed for fifteen years. He’s a ruthless criminal—a murderer. He only got early parole because he gave up someone only slightly more evil than himself.”
Her eyes narrowed to slits as she regarded me. I felt my face heat. “Where did you hear that? You know we’re not supposed to discuss clients!”
I shrugged and darted my gaze away, not wanting her to know I’d been sneaking around, eavesdropping on the staff. Discussing clients was strictly prohibited. The club guaranteed complete anonymity to its guests, but occasionally, a unique client would cause a stir.
“He’s expecting Vixen,” I reminded Laurie. “And no doubt a few hours of crazy, monkey sex!”
Laurie snickered, and I ignored the fact that her gaze raked over me, unimpressed by my tall, boyish figure. My long hair was restrained in a tight bun, and the round wire glasses I wore were a necessity not a fashion statement. I was no sexual diva. At twenty-four, I’d had two lovers—really one and a half. It wouldn’t be fair to count my neighbor’s drunken son who’d fallen into an alcoholic coma mid-thrust. Can’t say it had done much for my ego, but at least it had earned a dishonorable mention on my sparse sexual résumé.
“You have nothing to worry about,” she noted dryly.
“I don’t care. I’m not doing it.”
I’d seen the news, read the headlines. Red Skull was a drug lord, the red letters tattooed on his bald head rumored to be the initials of his victims.
“Stall him. Just entertain him until I get back with Vixen.”
A nervous laugh shook out of me. “Entertain him? How exactly am I supposed to do that? Juggle his balls? Fashion balloon animals out of his—”
“Tell me? How the hell am I supposed to keep a sex-starved, pathological killer entertained until his adjustable toy shows up?”
Laurie rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated with me. Pulse in overdrive, I scrambled to make sense of this runaway situation. “What if Vixen’s not at home, then what? What if—”
“Enough of your whining!” she snapped. “Just handle it! This will get you past the guards.” Pulling an electronic badge from her pocket, she pressed it into my palm. “Try not to talk to anyone. I shouldn’t be long. And you mustn’t listen to the girls in the office. You know how they exaggerate.”
In a swirl of mania, she was gone, her last words only meant to placate me. She didn’t give a shit if I got mauled by the sex-starved ex-con. She would say anything to ensure my compliance and save her own ass. Lord knows what I’d just gotten myself dragged into.
An uneasy quiet followed me through the hall as I made my way to the west side of the building housing the escape rooms. Hugging my arms across my torso, I focused on the strength of each breath rather than the folly of Laurie’s plan. I’d never been in this part of the building unaccompanied, but Laurie’s security badge got me through the solid metal doors and past the guard station without incident. I nodded to Phil and Bob, the goliath night shift guards, and kept my feet moving.
I tried to imagine my sister working here, making this trip, heading for a few hours of pleasure with a total stranger who could make any request or demand. What had she been thinking, feeling? Had she trembled with excitement? Perspired with nerves? Or had she simply been resigned? Had this been just a way for her to earn money in this unapologetically expensive city while she waited for her acting career to take off, or had she enjoyed pleasuring the wealthy, powerful, and often dangerous men who sought pleasure at Escape?
With a deep sigh, I turned a corner, breath staggering when the door to the escape loomed ahead.
Outside the door, I skimmed clammy palms over my prim white blouse and knee-length, pencil skirt. Adjusting my glasses, I slid the badge into the lock, pushed open the door, and tried not to step fully into panic.
The room was empty. Noise coming from an adjacent bathroom drew my attention, and I imagined the terrifying drug lord behind the door. Swallowing dread, I looked around the room, surprised by the minimal decor.
Most of the designs I’d seen for the escape rooms had been elaborate: a picturesque Roman garden, a smoky, turn of the century bordello, and even once, a Roman Catholic Church. The construction crew was constantly in and out of the building erecting new escapes and dismantling old ones.
This masculine bedroom swathed in tasteful browns and hunter green sported a large four-poster bed dominating the middle of the room.
A glance at the giant bed had heat stinging my cheeks. I pictured Vixen with Red Skull, a buxom, bizarrely-flexible blonde knotted around a hulking man with a tattooed skull. Biting my lip, I wondered vaguely if the bed would hold. Wringing my fingers, I rehearsed an excuse in my head.
Hi, Mr.… ah… Skull, sorry but the contortionist has been tied up. Please return your dick to the downward position, and fasten your belt until she shows up.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”
The deep voice stroked down my back, causing me to spin with a start only to stare at the blindingly gorgeous man standing a few feet away. My eyes stretched wide. Words muffled on my tongue—a tongue that never got a chance to perform because my jaw hit the floor.
Jason Fucking Grant!
Oh. My. Gawwwd!
Wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. Number 52. Poke-my-eyes-out gorgeous, and single-handedly responsible for countless nights of screaming fangasms!