When Lilly’s face turned ghostly white, Braden snapped the phone shut. It rang again immediately so he answered, not wanting Lilly to hear any more of this.


“If you have anything to say, you can say it to me.” He kept his voice level even though he wanted to reach through the phone line and strangle this guy.


“Put me on speaker,” he demanded.


Braden ignored the statement. “Why are you doing this?” If the only thing this guy wanted to do was torture Lilly he’d have to go through Braden first. Starting now he was taking back some control.


“Because she deserves it. Now put me on speaker. I want to hear the whore’s voice.”


“Why does she deserve this?” He still ignored his demand.


“I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work. I promise you, golden boy, you won’t be able to save your slut from me. I’m going to do everything to her I did to those women you found. And I’m going to keep her alive a lot longer.” The phone went dead.


And Braden’s body turned ice cold. He knew Lilly was sitting right next to him and was completely fine—physically at least—but hearing that monster talk like he was so sure of the outcome made Braden sick.


He shifted in his seat to face Lilly and reached out a hand to comfort her. “Don’t let what he said affect you.”


She stared at him, but her bright green eyes were glassy. “The woman he mentioned, Emily, was someone I worked with but she was also my friend. When we were captured, we shared a cell. Everything they did to one of us, they did to the other. It was—” Her voice broke.


“You don’t have to do this.” He reached out a hand to comfort her but she jerked away.


She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “They killed her hours before we were rescued. Hours. Hacked her up right in front of me then…set her on fire. The whole time they laughed at her screams. My leg and most of my ribs were broken, and I could barely see. She was screaming my name but I couldn’t even go to her.” Lilly pressed a hand to her stomach, but kept going. “When my cell door opened the next time, I just knew I was next, but it was the SEAL team coming to rescue me.”


“They’re never going to hurt you again.” This time he didn’t care if she pulled away. He unstrapped his seatbelt and shifted to the middle of the bench seat.


“That’s not it. I was…relieved to be alive. How messed up is that? Emily had two little boys at home. I don’t understand why they didn’t kill me instead.” She stared at a spot just over his shoulder, refusing to meet his gaze.


Understanding suddenly swept through him. Not only was she suffering from PTSD, but she had a healthy dose of survivor’s guilt. He’d seen it too many times when he’d been in Iraq. It never made sense when one of his friends died instead of him. One of his buddies had been killed by a roadside bomb the afternoon he learned he was a new father. Another died with two weeks left to go home. “Lilly, what happened was completely out of your control. No matter what you’d done, the outcome would have been the same.”


“Then why do I feel so guilty all the time?” Her voice cracked.


“Because you’re alive and they’re not.” It had taken him a couple years to come to grips with the fact that war was just that. War. It was violent and gory, and that was simply the way things were. No matter what he did, the deaths of his friends would never make sense. It was something a person learned to live with.


“Did you lose any friends when you were overseas?” Her question was quiet.


Damn, the woman was a mind reader. “Yeah.”


“How do you live with it?”


“One day at a time.”


“Did you ever talk to anyone about it?”


“My grandfather.” The thought of talking to a therapist had been laughable back then.


He’d just gotten out of the Marines and half his friends hadn’t come home. He was alive so what the hell did he have to complain about? Nothing. But his grandfather had seen right through him. A few weeks after he’d been discharged, his grandfather took him out, got him good and drunk and simply let him talk. He’d never spoken about his time over there since then, but that night had been therapeutic.


Lilly’s shoulders loosened a little as she shifted against the seat. A stray tear fell down her cheek. Instinctively, he brushed it away. He swiped a thumb over her soft cheek, savoring the feel of her delicate skin.


Her breath hitched as he cupped her face. Touching her like this was a mistake. But he couldn’t seem to help himself. If he was going to walk away from her, now would be the time.


“Braden.” His name was a whisper on her lips.


Despite the urgency humming through his body, he slowly leaned down until their lips barely touched. He wanted to give her plenty of time to stop him.


As soon as they made contact, he heard the sound of her seatbelt unsnapping, then her arms looped around his neck.


With a low groan, he grabbed her hips and pulled her across his lap so that she was straddling him. Her familiar scent enveloped him as she grinded against him. He knew he should stop. They were acting like randy teenagers—in the middle of a parking lot no less—but when he slid his hand up under her sweater and touched bare skin, all coherent thought fled. In the back of his mind he knew he’d pay for this later. Late at night when she’d gone back to D.C. and he had to live without her once again, but he couldn’t stop himself now if someone held a gun to his head.


With his free hand, he tugged at her scarf so he could get better access to all of her. Their lips and tongues danced in a hungry frenzy as their bodies pressed against each other. Once he’d freed her scarf, he started a trail of kisses down her jaw until he reached her earlobe.


She’d always been sensitive there. Things still hadn’t changed. When he tugged on the tender flesh, she nearly vaulted out of his lap.


And that was the only sign he needed. He tugged at the bottom of her sweater and lifted it over her head. She slightly shivered but he knew it wasn’t from being cold. The heated look in her green eyes told him everything he needed.


He couldn’t tear his gaze away from her barely covered breasts. She’d filled out since he’d seen her last. Not much but her curves were more defined and he desperately wanted to see all of her.


The sound of her harsh, erratic breathing matched his own. It sounded over pronounced in the small enclosure. Without asking, he reached around her back to unhook her bra. As he slid the straps down her arm, she arched her back into him.


He didn’t waste time taking what he wanted. Leaning forward, he gently flicked his tongue over one of her nipples. The pink bud hardened even more under his touch. When he sucked her breast deeper in his mouth, she moaned and writhed against him. His cock pushed painfully against the zipper of his pants.


She threaded her fingers through his short hair and gripped his head, forcing his head upward. Without having to say a word, he knew what she wanted. He didn’t hold back the moan as he crushed his mouth to hers.


This was going to happen. Right here. Right now. It would be fast and frenzied the first time but the next time would be gentler. His cock ached painfully between his legs, begging to be unleashed. The desire to be inside her overruled everything right now. He needed this like he needed to fucking breathe.


As she started to grapple with his belt, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket.


They both froze. For a moment neither of them moved until the buzzing started again. Disappointment filled Lilly’s expression as she slightly sat back, giving him room to move.


Cursing, he fished it out. It was Vanessa. “I’ve got to take this…Yeah?” he practically barked.


“Where are you? Hailey said you left a while ago.” Impatience laced Vanessa’s voice.


“We stopped to grab coffee.”


“Well get down here. There’s a woman who was friends with the fourth victim waiting to talk to you. She drove straight from Charlotte when she got the news about Macy Turner’s death and she won’t speak to anyone but you.”


He bit back a sigh. “I’m on my way.”


Lilly slid off his lap and started getting dressed as he snapped the phone shut. He just barely stopped himself from groaning in disappointment as she put her bra on.


“We might have another lead,” he said as he averted his gaze. He needed to get rid of his hard-on and staring at her as she got dressed wouldn’t help him any.


“I should probably be more excited,” she murmured as she adjusted her clothes.


“This isn’t over.” He started the ignition, refusing to look at her. If he did, he’d throw common sense out the window and finish what they’d started.


“So you don’t think what just happened is a mistake?”


“Hell no.”


“Good.”


He glanced at her to find a small smile playing across her face. Gunning the engine, he sped out of the parking lot. Tonight couldn’t come soon enough.


Lilly sipped her coffee as she looked through the two-way mirror into the interview room at the sheriff’s office. Braden was talking to a woman named Emily Lopez and Vanessa was recording the conversation. The Lopez woman wasn’t a suspect, but they weren’t taking any chances.


The pretty brunette was simply crying over her friend’s death instead of giving any actual information—and Lilly couldn’t blame her. Losing someone to violence was always hard. The woman obviously just wanted answers.


“So you knew Braden in high school?” Vanessa asked. She sat at the small desk in front of the recording device.


“Yeah.”


“A lot of women would kill to be in your position,” she continued.


She swiveled around. “A lot of women would kill to be stalked and tormented by a maniac?”


The woman’s cheeks turned pink. “Sorry, I…I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant, you know, the fact that Braden is interested.”


Lilly bit back a retort and turned toward the window. She didn’t know what this detective thought she knew about them. Maybe she was fishing for information.

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