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I stared, not with confusion, but with a slow, simmering rage. “You’ve done a great job at being an ass**le for twenty-five years. Don’t change it up on me now.” I walked away.

“Why not?” he called, coughing from the effort it took to yell that out.

Quietly seething inside, I clenched my hands into fists, my knuckles biting into my leather gloves. “Because it won’t change anything.”

I’m now out of the house, working on my third mark, but she’s still in my head. I keep seeing green eyes, green eyes turned an emerald dark as she comes like some f**king rocket, thrashing and twisting beneath me. She’s that one precious diamond every robber wants to steal, that kitten every dog wants to chase, the mare you want to ride, bridle and tame—but not completely. Oh, no, not all the time because her wildness excites you. Her wildness makes you wilder. Her wildness makes you f**king ravenous.

Hell, these past days I feel like I haven’t f**king eaten in a hundred thousand weeks.

Goddammit! Get out of my head, princess.

I’m settled down at the park table when my target finally appears.

I sit behind an open newspaper with my SIG semiautomatic hidden low and tightly underneath, my aviators shielding my eyes as he walks by.

I keep my voice low enough not to alarm anyone, but loud enough to be heard by the poor shit I’m here to f**k with. “Sit down,” I say.

He jerks at the sound of my voice and reaches into his pocket for what I assume is some method of self-defense. “Guy like you, you can’t see it, but there are several shooters trained on you from all angles. So you might as well sit.”

He drops down like lead into the chair I kick out for him. “So,” I say, folding the paper and leveling him with my attention, while my SIG semiautomatic is still, underneath the folded paper, trained right at his heart.

I slide my aviators to the top of my head and lean back as I study the man. Middle aged, probably he’s realized he’ll be stuck in a shit job for the rest of his life and thought he could bet his way to a better life, and instead it got worse.

“I stopped by your house yesterday to leave you a little present, but I was afraid your wife would see the contents, and considering the nature . . .”

With my free hand, I slide over a manila envelope. His hands tremble as he opens it. The blood drains from his face as images of him and his bare-ass na**d lover tumble out. “Holy . . .” he gasps.

“She’s got you by the nuts, huh?” I lean over so he can hear me well. My blood pumps hot as I think of my own nuts, and my own little sexy bare-naked problem, driving me more than a little crazy lately. “You thought you could f**k this chick once and walk away, but you couldn’t. She was wild and you liked that. She looked at you like you were god’s f**king gift to womankind; you must have liked that too.”

I pause for three heartbeats while my mark keeps getting paler and paler. “I bet you’re obsessed with the way she feels, the way her hair smells, how she smiles, how she walks, how she flirts with other f**king males . . . Well, Hendricks, I’m here to tell you that you owe the Underground $168,434 for your gambling losses, and we’re ready to collect.”

I lean back and slide my aviators back over my eyes. “You can’t keep your pu**y on my money. Are we clear?”

The guy is pale as a ghost, so it’s safe to assume we’re f**king clear here.

I fold the paper, SIG and all, into the pocket of my jacket. “One of my men will meet you here, tomorrow.” As I rise, I lean over and say, “I’ve got copies of these images. You’ll get them when you pay up what you owe, but don’t test me. I have a motivation as strong as yours.” My mother. My freedom. And my own f**king nuts, in a twist over a girl with golden hair and green eyes and a smile that guts me. Yeah, I’m in even deeper shit than this poor guy is.

When the target leaves, C.C. and I go check up with the team in silence. All of them are at the “yacht,” like some sick Big Brother sea home, including the surveillance cameras.

My father sits there, glad to be out of the house and getting the gist of the planning. As for the team . . .

I’ve got tabs on Derek to make sure he’s not betraying what he knows, but the rest, I’m always watching, monitoring calls, replaying surveillance tapes. Blood oath is fine—except I don’t trust my own shadow.

The first I had to test was C.C.—because he’s the closest to a brother I’ve got and I had to know if his loyalties are to my father, who’s fed him all these years, or to his blood brother, who’s been me.

“If I told you this glass held a very deadly substance, and asked you to take it to my father, what would you say?”

“I’d say yes, ass**le, what do you think I’d say?” C.C. replies, sticking a toothpick into his teeth and letting it dangle there. We’re outside my dad’s bedroom, where he’s monitored by his medical team 24/7. The door is opened partway, and we can see my father talking to Eric, oblivious to us watching.

“Good. Since you’re the only one I trust, I say you better go. So go.” I hand him the glass. “Take it, discreetly.”

He looks at me. “I know how to be discreet. Just tell me. Will it be painful for the dude?”

“Not as much as he deserves, but yes.” I edge back and watch C.C. maneuver the liquid into my father’s medications. The motherfucker carries it over, murmurs to my dad, “Are you thirsty, Slater?” and makes sure my father slowly drinks it. He comes back and sits. “It’s done,” he says calmly.

C.C. is about as coldhearted as I am. Ice under all circumstances.

We sit in silence. “It wasn’t poisoned, was it, you dick?” he asks, spitting out the toothpick in anger and betrayal.

“No.” I stand. “I just needed to be sure.”

I could so easily end my father. Slip something into the IV bags and he’d be gone. But even a criminal has to have a code, and I have mine. I don’t kill for pleasure or even for myself. I don’t kill family.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. Constantly, I do. I’ve dreamed I’ve killed my father many times and I wake up relieved. Until I remember I didn’t kill him—he’s alive.

Rage pulses through me that I have to even look at him, let alone do his f**king dirty work.

C.C. follows me down the hall of the yacht, where we’re parked a couple of miles away from Los Angeles. One of the rooms is set up with phones and charts—the gambling bookkeeping, tracking all the bets of every fight of the Underground. “We’re your guys, Z, you can trust us. I know it’s not in your nature to, but you can.”

“I’m working on a couple of other names; in the meantime call Tina Glass. Tell her I need number ten in a compromising position with her. She’s not to deliver the evidence to anyone but me, personally. I have another target to work on this weekend. I’ll be leaving town—use the code if there’s an emergency.”

“Eric wants the rest of the team to support.”

“I don’t need their support. But I need you to help me nail number ten. He’s squeaky clean and he’s pissing me off.”

“I know what else is pissing you off!” C.C. laughs.

I growl and tell him where he can shove it. He knows there’s “a skirt”—he suspects, at least, and trips me when he catches me staring at my phone unawares. I am never caught unawares. I trip him back then pin him up by the collar to the wall. “Stop f**king with me, C.C.”

“I’m not the one who’s f**king with you.” He taps my temple, then hisses, “Get her out of there, dude, before your father finds out.”

I feel so messed up I’m getting pissed that I ever thought it was a good idea to touch her in the first place.

But there’s that one phone I haven’t disarmed, and it’s only because I get these little texts from her.

Are you there?

Fuck, I wish I wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t sitting here, staring at this screen, poleaxed in the goddamned chest every time I read it.

I keep thinking I imagined you.

I haven’t answered her, but I feel like typing:

Princess, you have no idea how close you’re dancing to the flame.

It’s a day since this last text. I keep pulling it out to look at it, tempted to tell her to f**king forget about me, princess; I’m going to use you, abuse you, and throw you the f**k away when I’m done cause that’s what I do.

Sometimes I tell myself if I’d stayed one night longer, maybe even one f**k longer, I wouldn’t be so obsessed. But she has a mouth made for oral, thick, full lips and a crazy hungry tongue. Fuck me, I’ve been jerking off like crazy because the mere thought of her going down on me gets me hard.

But no. Even if she’d sucked me all night long, I’m sure I’d still be hungry to push her head down and feed her more of me, make her eat me, every last drop.

The fact that I got pissed because our night together ended too soon, and I actually wanted to lie there, in that bed, for a couple more hours and see what it felt like to hold her for a while, only confuses me further.

I call Tina myself on my other phone. Tina Glass, aka Miss Kitty. She’s exactly who you need to frame a man. She’s clean, good looking, and lethal. “My men call you?”

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