Clay froze in place. Shit! Fuck! Shit! Fuck, fuck, fuck! Oh, fucking fuck, fuck! What the fuck?

All traces of alcohol immediately dissipated from his system, and he was on red alert. Fear hit him fresh, and his bravado was gone. For the first time in his life, he didn’t have a single smart-ass remark to come back with. At least…not one that wouldn’t get him killed.

“Give me everything you have on you. Right now!” he cried, his hand shaking slightly as he held the gun aloft. “And no sudden movements, pretty boy.”

“Just throw your shit over here,” yelled another voice off to Clay’s right, past the guy holding the gun. “And make it fucking quick.”

He couldn’t see either of the assholes who were holding him at gunpoint and robbing him blind. He couldn’t even turn to look and get the incriminating information he’d need in court…if he survived this.

Fuck! No!

He would survive this. He’d comply. They’d get what they wanted and be gone. Most armed robberies didn’t end in death. They were thieves, not murderers. He knew the statistics. He needed to get this under control. But he was still shaking violently as he reached into his back pocket.

“Now, you piece of shit!” the guy next to him yelled. He pressed the gun harder against Clay’s temple, and sweat collected on his brow. “Keep going! What? You think your life is worth shit? It’s not. You’re fucking nothing. It’d be a motherfucking mercy to pull this trigger and put this bullet where it belonged. Now, move.”

Clay tossed the wallet in the direction he’d heard the other guy move. He heard the guy pick it up and start rifling through it.

“Nice. You must think you’re untouchable if you’re walking around the streets with fifteen hundred dollars in cash on you. He was just asking for it. We should put him out of his misery.”

Clay clamped his mouth shut. He wanted to think that he’d be a badass vigilante in this situation and get the drop on these fuckers. But, with the barrel of the gun pressed to his temple, he was keenly aware of his own mortality.

“What else you got, pretty boy?”

The second guy patted him down and stripped him of the Rolex on his wrist, his iPhone, the keys in his pocket, and even the cuff links on his shirt. They were worth a fortune even if these idiots didn’t know it.

“Okay. I’ve done everything you said. Now, let me go.”

The first guy laughed. “Let you go? So, you can go run to the police?”

He didn’t even see the sucker-punch coming. It hit him square in the jaw, then the kidney, the stomach, and his chest. He doubled over, fighting for breath, as pain exploded in his vision. One guy pushed him over, and Clay dropped to his knees as the other one joined in. They both cursed his very existence as they proceeded to beat the ever-living shit out of him.

Clay curled into a ball on the ground as they kicked his stomach and ribs and back over and over. He felt something break and couldn’t keep from crying out. He couldn’t get enough air in.

Karma had never struck so true.

For a split second, he thought they’d leave him there like that. He couldn’t get up to go to the police. They’d done what they came for. They needed to just slink back into the dark depths from where they’d come from.

Then, the gun pressed into the back of his head. Clay groaned and looked up into the eyes of his attacker.

He memorized every feature in that split second—dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin, a scar on his left cheek, tattoo on his neck, a bird, jagged edge to his eyebrow—as the guy screamed in his face, “This is what you deserve, you piece of shit!”

Clay was sure this was the end. After everything, this was how he was going to go, mugged and beaten to within inches of his life, lying in a dirty alley.


Then, the gun landed heavily on his temple. His skull crunched against the gravel, and he fell into darkness.

Chapter 4


Beep. Beep. Beep.

“Ugh,” Clay groaned. He had a splitting headache, and everything felt fuzzy.

“Clay!” a girl cried. “You’re awake!”

He cringed at the volume before slowly cracking his eyes open. A gorgeous blonde was leaning over him.

“Hey, sexy,” he croaked.

The woman shot him an exasperated look. “Is that any way to talk to your future sister-in-law?”

“Sorry, Liz,” he ground out. “Wanna fuck?”

Liz laughed and shook her head, as if she’d expected nothing less. “Well, at least we know there’s no more damage done than what was already wrong with your head.”

Everything else slowly came into focus. The bright lights of the hospital room, the itchy blanket lying across his torso, the gentle thrum of the equipment surrounding him.

“What the fuck happened?”

Liz frowned. Her blonde hair swished over one shoulder, drawing his eyes lower, lower, lower, and then they quickly shot back up to meet her baby blues.

She was chewing on her bottom lip. “What exactly do you remember?”

He strained to remember how he had gotten here, but he was drawing a blank. “Andrea left with Bad Suit.”

“Right. She mentioned she’d left the bar you were at.”

Though Liz’s eyes said that Andrea hadn’t said she’d left with someone else. The extent of their game wasn’t common knowledge. He wasn’t surprised she’d left that part out.

“I should probably go get her. She’s really been beating herself up about all of this.”

“Wait,” he said, grabbing her hand. “Tell me what happened.”

“You were robbed,” she said plainly. The corners of her mouth turned down. “Someone found you unconscious in the gutter without your ID or anything. You didn’t even have your coat or shoes, and you were so messed up.”

“Bastards took my shoes!” he growled as everything slowly came back to him. He grimaced as he remembered the brutal beating he’d taken in the alley.

“You were brought to the hospital, and they IDed you here. Brady’s trying to keep it all quiet and out of the news.”

“Oh, of course he is,” Clay drawled. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

Liz reached down and squeezed his hand. “He cares about you, Clay. This isn’t about him.”