CHAPTER 1

There are many levels to the depths of Sean Ferro’s anger, but holy shit, I never expected this. The man just stands there, on the sidewalk, and stares. It’s like a nuke went off inside his head. Sean’s big blue eyes don’t blink, as his jaw becomes tighter and tighter.

Tipping my head to the side, I try to catch his eye. Nothing. Leaning forward, I poke him. “Uh, Sean? Not to be a diva, but I’m the one who should be freaking out right now, not you.” And I am. I refuse to think about it right now, which is the only reason why I’m still calm. Denial is the best drug around.

That wakes him up. The muscles in his thick neck are strained like cords of rope. “Of course. I’m being unreasonable. Completely. This doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, why should it? Why would I be upset if the woman I love is having three-ways with her roommate, sleeping with that dick Henry, and doing her best friend—who said he was g*y until rather recently? It shouldn’t matter at all. Of course not.” Sean lets out a rush of air and presses his palms to his face and looks up at the sky as if thinking, why me?

“You tied me up and pretended to have a gangbang.” I glare at him with my hands on my hips.

Sean peeks out from between his fingers and laughs. “Holy fuck, Avery.” He starts laughing those light little laughs that sound more crazed than anything else. “I’ve never met my match. Not with business or in the bedroom, but you—we’re neck and neck on the crazy scale, aren’t we?”

I wave him off and grin. “Psh, you own the crazy scale, Sean. The Urban Dictionary entry for nucking futs is a picture of you.” Folding my arms against my chest, I stare at the cracks in the sidewalk. How is it that this guy seems so right for me? We’re both deranged lunatics. I’m pretty sure I’m committable and I know he is. I flick my gaze up and catch him staring at me. “What?”

Sean’s trying not to smile. His lips keep twitching as his eyes dart between my gaze and the grass. “Nothing.” He lets out a sigh and all the tension leaks from his muscles. Sean steps toward me, but he doesn’t touch. The tension between us is thick. My body responds to him and remembers his caresses. “Tell me how someone pretended to be me last night. I’m guessing you were blindfolded or something.”

I make a face and look away, wishing I could hide behind that bush down the street again. Being stupid is one thing. Admitting it later is another. Why is everything always crystal clear in hindsight? Avoiding his gaze, I say, “Uh, something like that. Listen, I can handle that on my own. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, you don’t understand. It’s my problem when someone impersonates me, especially if he took advantage of you.”

“I’m a hooker, Sean. I don’t think things work like that anymore.” But I thought they did. I feel played, but the guy paid, so does it matter who it was? I honestly don’t want to start turning over stones to see who did it, because I know I won’t like what I find. Every day with Black becomes worse than the day before. I need a new job, but I’m so close to graduation. The end is within sight. I just have to hold out a little longer. I’m almost done.

Sean doesn’t like that answer. I can see it in the set of his shoulders before he answers. “Avery, people will treat you the way you expect them to. This is unacceptable. What were you doing that you couldn’t—”

Mel choses that moment to emerge from the house. “That is one fine house, Ferro. At least you’re not a total a**hole, cuz anyone who does stuff like this for his brother can’t be all bad.” Mel looks at me and then Sean. “What’d I miss?”

“Someone impersonated me to get to Avery.”

My hands slam onto my h*ps and I glare at him. “Wow, thanks Sean. What if I wasn’t going to tell her that?”

Sean’s voice deepens as he glares at me. “If you say, ‘You’re not the boss of me,’ I’m going to throw you over my shoulder and spank you senseless.” The look on Sean’s face is dark and brooding. I know he means it. My response is so totally wrong, but a giggle pops out, so I press my hands over my mouth and look away, horrified.

Mel rolls her eyes and turns from us. “You two are into the freaky shit, and I don’t wanna hear it.”

Sean steps directly in front of me and looks down. “Avery is staying with me for a few days.”

“No, I’m not!”

“Yes, you are. It’s not negotiable.”

Slouching, I tip my head to the side and counter. “Sean, you’re being a dick.”

“I am a dick.” He lowers his face to mine, so we’re nose to nose. “And it doesn’t matter what you say, Avery, I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

“Black won’t let me stay with you.”

“Black doesn’t have to know.” Sean glances at Mel and adds, “Does she?”

Mel makes an offended noise in the back of her throat and bristles. “Why you gotta be like that? I’m not tattling on you two if you want to fornicate, but Black does have eyes everywhere. In a couple of hours she’ll know where we are and what we’re wearing. She’ll know Sean’s here.”

I glance up at him. Part of me wants him around. I want things to go forward, but this isn’t forward. It’s like a barn dance and I think we’re spinning in circles, forever stuck in the same damn spot. “I can’t afford to piss off Black. No one has done anything to me. The guy didn’t hurt me, Sean, and I’m a call girl. I did my job.” Yeah, keep telling yourself that Avery. You don’t feel violated. Of course not. I’m having trouble swallowing that lie. “I’ll just head home and—” My phone chirps, so I fish it out of my pocket and look down at the screen.

There’s a message from Marty:

Better sit down, Avery. Saw this and thought you should know. It’s bad. People recognize you. Call if you want to talk.

Sean and Mel are arguing, but their voices turn to noise as apprehension fills my stomach. I press the link and a video starts. Mortified, I look away and try not to cry. One of the videos from the other night—a full body shot of me pleasuring myself—is online. Being a call girl for Black is one thing. I’m a whore, but no one else knew about it. I could live with that, sort of, but this is unthinkable. Without blinking, I shove the phone at Sean and walk away. My feet move down the tree-lined street as horror rises up and drowns me. I don’t realize how hard I’m trying not to cry until I feel Sean’s hand on my shoulder. I stop in my tracks and turn, unable to look him in the eye.

Sean doesn’t speak. He takes me in his arms and holds me against his chest, tangling his hands in my hair as he comforts me. My throat is so tight that I can’t swallow. I can’t breathe. There have already been hundreds of views and the video hasn’t even been there for a whole day. My mind is collapsing brick by brick.

When Sean speaks, his voice has a deep gentleness about it that makes me want to believe every word he says. “I’ll take care of it. That will be gone within the hour. Avery, listen. I need you to tell me everything. I’ll fix this, and make it so the guy who f**ked with you will wish he’d never been born.”

CHAPTER 2

“You want me to do what?” Mel snaps at Sean with her hands plastered firmly to her curvy hips. The girl is wearing sweatpants and still looks gorgeous. It’s amazing. Come to think of it, Mel is amazing, period. She goes to class, does her work, turns in papers, has high test scores, and manages to live this double life, all without breaking a nail. The job doesn’t seem to bother her. I wonder how much of that is an act? It’s hard to jump out of the center of a raging river without any help. Most people just drown, but Mel keeps going. She’s close to the end and we both know it.

Sean’s voice has the soft, patient tone that means he’s ready to lose it and go nutso on her ass. “Drive back to the dorm and leave Avery with me. When people ask where she is, tell them that she came back with you. If someone’s keeping an eye on her, I want them watching the dorm and not looking for her here.”

Mel folds her arms over her chest while Sean speaks and then sighs dramatically. “So, what? You can mess with her head even more? I can take care of Avery, okay. I got skills.” Mel works her jaw as she stares him down.

Sean steps into Mel’s space. Her arms drop to her sides and her fingers flex, ready to throw a punch. I step forward and try to interrupt, but Sean talks over me. Glaring at her, he snaps, “Someone is trying to hurt her. There are enough people who’d want to do it that I can’t even venture a guess at who it might be, which is why they need to think she has no clue. That means we should make it look like she heads back to New York with you. Actually doing that would be the height of stupidity.”

Mel is ready to explode. “You don’t know jackshit about me. I can throw a knife—”

He cuts her off. “I don’t doubt that you can. And I don’t question your ability to defend Avery—or yourself—if you know where the attacker is and what he plans to do, but we don’t. Those variables are hidden at the moment, and having two people watching her back is better than having one. When it comes to a knife fight, my money’s on you, but this isn’t that kind of fight. Someone is manipulating her, trying to move Avery into a position that’s still unclear. If they wanted to physically hurt her, they would have done it already. That’s not what this is about.”

“You think I can’t outsmart someone?”

Sean is practically growling. If he was a dog, his hackles would be raised and he’d be flashing his fangs. “Why do you have to be so argumentative? Don’t you want to keep her safe?”

“Why do you think that you can do a better job than me?” Mel is on her toes, yell-screaming in his face. “I’ve kept her safe until now.”

Sean blinks and looks surprised. “You did?”

Mel’s jaw drops and she’s quiet for half a beat. Then she pushes a finger to the center of his chest. “Damn straight, I did. I did a bunch of stuff that you don’t have a clue about because you weren’t there, Ferro. You and your f**ked up shit were somewhere else, nailing some other call girl.”

Sean’s gaze is lethal. For a moment he says nothing. A breeze moves through the trees, rustling the leaves and blowing Sean’s dark hair. He relaxes as if he’s lost the fight and then throws the killing verbal punch. “I see. Remind me again who introduced her to Miss Black in the first place?” Mel’s entire body starts shaking and her mouth opens like she wants to scream, but Sean’s voice is soft and careful, which is rare for him. It makes Mel freeze in place, like a banshee about to wail. “Two people watching out for Avery is better than one.”

Mel snaps her mouth shut and she tucks her hands into the crooks of her arms. “Fine, but I hate you.”

“As long as you take care of Avery, I respect you.”

“Awh, fuck.” Mel drops her arms to her sides like a pouty little kid. “You can’t be nice to me, Ferro. What the hell was that?”

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