“I’m driving you two to a suite at a better and safer hotel,” I say in a cold, emotionless voice, low and keeping my eyes on Melanie. “I’d appreciate if you kept her company until I can return.”
“I’ll do it for her because it’s her birthday but not because you asked me to, ass**le.”
I wake up disoriented, and then, like a brick to the head, it hits me.
I’m drunk, still.
More like hungover.
A fierce pounding in my temples makes me squint my eyes as I try to place myself. I groan and shift in bed, and I realize that I have a braid and I don’t remember doing my hair. To think that Greyson may have put his hands on my hair makes my stomach hurt.
I push to my feet and peer around the room. It’s three a.m.
I fell asleep in the car?
There’s an enormous bathroom and I feel so filthy, I go around the room in search of my stuff—and see my suitcase. Quickly I tear off my clothes and pull out a T-shirt and cotton undershorts, then walk around, parched. I guzzle a bottle of water and peer around. I’ve never been in such a big room. It’s lavishly decorated, and very cozy. There are pictures on the wall of wildlife next to wooden boomerangs.
Books run from side to side on one wall in a living room, and there’s another closed room. I see Pandora’s shoes by the bar and I frown in confusion.
I hear a noise from a third room and peer inside, and I see him.
My insides tighten when he doesn’t see me.
He’s got glinting silver things spread out over the bed. He looks freshly showered and is slipping into a shirt, sleek black slacks hanging low on his waist.
The lamps to both sides of the bed are made of onyx, each with a lightbulb glowing warmly at the center, filtering through the onyx in an incredibly elegant way. It kisses his skin golden, it runs through his hair, it touches him in a way that makes me fist my hands at my side.
The sight of him reminds me so much of other mornings. In his huge, empty apartment. When we were fooling around, sometimes taking a bath together. It felt like he was mine.
But he’s not.
Instant emotion swells inside me when I think of him and that woman.
Then I remember Riley.
What else happened?
As I try to decipher what’s on the bed, I notice he’s begun observing me with a quiet, narrowed stare, and something passes across his face, a wistful kind of longing that makes my own yearning slice me up in quarters.
“Where are we?” I croak.
“Not my hotel.”
“It is now.”
The sight of his nipple piercing glinting in the lamplight as he starts buttoning his shirt mocks me. I want to suck it as I ride him. Tug it and play with it as he f**ks me, loves me. No, he’ll never love me.
“Zero . . .” I whisper. “When I was falling asleep, I kept hearing someone saying that number over and over, what is it? You were telling Derek to call someone to come pick you up at the airport, and several times he said Zero . . . What is that?”
He sighs and turns, then spreads his arms out and watches me cautiously. “Me.”
“Zero?” I nearly choke on the word. “Is Greyson not even your name?”
Greyson waits it out.
Which only makes me more confused, more frustrated.
“Zero?” I repeat. “What the hell does that mean? Certainly not the number of women you’ve f**ked. Hell, I thought I knew you!”
“You thought you knew me?” His outrage is like a tangible thing in the room. “I thought I knew you! What the f**k, Melanie? Your necklace is missing! I find you in a room with another dude! You tell me what the f**k. You have a whole Underground in yourself, princess, I’m not the only f**king liar here!”
There’s a knock, and a guy with a sleek head peers inside. “I’m ready when you are. Derek will keep his post here—your reservation’s—”
“Leon, I need a f**king moment here,” Greyson interrupts as he stalks across the room, slamming the door shut on his face, but not soon enough. Not before I see the man. Recognize him, that tall, lanky man.
From the time I visited Brooke one weekend and stole away alone to the Underground, begging for an extension.
Extension? We can make you an extension of our cocks, how’s that, lady?
I glance at Grey and an even more terrifying realization washes over me, and with an awful wrenching in my gut, I finally, finally get it.
Greyson, that skinny guy he called Leon, and the other group of guys who laughed at me when I’d asked for more time; they are the gods and lords of the Underground.
The lanky, ugly one looked at Greyson like he’s a god, and he’s the guy who wanted to f**k me as payment. Payment for my debt. I gasp at the realization and I clutch my stomach as a weakening wave of nausea roils over me.
“Omigod, you’re one of them.”
His eyes flick to the closed door, then to me, and he tells me, “If he sets a finger on you, I’ll cut it off so help me god, I’ll cut off every single one of them—”
Cupping my mouth, I sit on the edge of the bed when my legs fail me. I rock myself to and fro, because he’s not just a liar, he’s . . .
He’s . . .
I don’t even know what he is.
Suddenly, I think of how he met me . . . god, was he following me?
The men? Was he the guy . . . the guy who drove me home then left me, drenched with his blood?
I can’t. Can’t. Can’t.
I curl forward and hold my stomach as I try not to get sick.
“Princess.” He whispers the word almost reverently as he starts for me.
I leap to my feet and whip one hand out to hold him at bay. “No! Stay. Stay there, don’t you touch me. Just tell me one thing . . .” I’m assaulted by my pain as other memories keep piling up in my brain.
Lies . . . lies . . . lies . . .
I can barely make myself speak. “Were you collecting?” My eyes blur with tears when I look at him, as if the bastard hasn’t already made me cry enough today. “Were you collecting from me?”
“Is that what you think?” he asks, softly, standing a few feet away with about a tornado’s worth of energy simmering around him.
A rage unlike any other bubbles within me as I reach for the hem of my T-shirt. “Here we go then!” I jerk it off my head, drop my shorts, kicking them in the air—in his direction. “Let’s collect. Let’s get this bet over with. Surely you’ve received partial payment for all the other times I f**ked you?” Then I start slipping off my G-string. “So how many more do we have left? How many? Huh?” I kick my panties aside and stand na**d before him. “Huh, Greyson?”
He’s frozen like a statue, his eyes brilliant as I gather my T-shirt in one fist and toss it in his direction. “C’mon—let’s get this over with. Just tell me how many f**ks it’s going to take.”
He grabs the shirt and in one lightning-fast second, covers the distance between us, pressing it into my chest, calmly murmuring, “Get dressed. We’ll talk later today. I have one man left to see, and I don’t have much time, Melanie. My father is very ill . . .”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Just put this on please!” he roars.
Angry, but suddenly scared, I start slipping back into my T-shirt as he goes to stand by the window, staring outside in bitter silence at a distant green mountain.
The silence is deafening.
I’m suddenly . . . heartbroken.
Not even angry. I feel like he gathered all my dreams, all my hopes, and all my emotions and put them in a blender, and now they’re pureed into nothing. They’ll never, ever be pieced back together again. Ever.
“Who are you?” I ask dejectedly. A ball of fire is gathering in my throat. “At least tell me that. At least tell me that, Greyson.”
“Zero is an alias. Because I’m . . .” He turns around, spreads the arms that have always made me feel protected out to encompass the room. “Untraceable, supposedly.”
A tense silence settles between us.
His gaze shutters as he murmurs, almost as though he doesn’t want to say it but some decent part of him is forcing him to, “I was retired, but now it seems that I help collect gambling payments owed to my father. Forty-eight collections. That’s all I had to do in order to retire again. I’ve got one more . . . and you . . . and then I’m done with this. And he’ll tell me where my mother is.”
And you, I silently repeat, the blender spinning my emotions again.
“What’s your real name?” I ask thickly.
“You already know my name,” he says, his voice low and gruff as a spark of tenderness steals into his eyes. “You’ve moaned it. Screamed it. Whispered it. It’s Greyson, Melanie.” He starts for me as though he suddenly needs to make some sort of contact, but I can’t bear it if he touches me. I back away, shaking my head from side to side.
“So you’re one of their leaders. Leader of these mafia Underground men,” I say.
His eyes burn with some unspeakable emotion. “If that’s what you want to call me, yes.”
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