“I just want to make sure I don’t hurt this nice rug,” she murmured.

Turning away from him, she padded across to the hearth. The logs were burning low and slow, and as she thought about the nature of heat, she reached up to the twist she had redone in the restaurant’s bathroom before she had gone out to Trez’s car. The pins came out so smoothly that it was as if they wanted to work with her, and when she felt a release of tension at her temples and down on the back of her neck, she sighed. The weight of her hair tumbled, tumbled, tumbled down over her shoulders, reaching to just above her waist. She had been thinking of getting it all cut off, and going with something chin-length and easy.

Now, she was glad she had resisted the impulse.

Still with her back to him, she pulled out the tails of her work shirt and began to unbutton things from the top down. When she had released all the fastenings, she split the two halves and let the cotton fall from her torso.

The gasp from over where Trez was standing gave her the confidence to keep going. Her slacks were easy to take off, and as she kicked them to the side, she wondered how far she was willing to go. Then again, with only her underwear left? It wasn’t like there was much more to remove.

And given the dark spices that emanated from behind her?

She didn’t exactly suck at stripping.

Her bra had a back clasp so she torqued her hands between her shoulder blades and unclipped it. As the binding released, her breasts felt instantly fuller and heavy in a sexual way, her nipples teased as she shucked the plain, serviceable undergarment.

Therese was about to turn around when she looked down at a buzzkill and a half: She was pretty much naked… except for black socks she’d bought at Target. Yeah, because nothing said sexy-sexy like a female in her panties and her ankle-highs.

She had to laugh as she took them off with her toes, one… then the other.

After which, she looked over her bare shoulder and—

Trez’s body was anything but relaxed as he leaned against that wall. His thighs were twitching underneath the fine wool of his slacks, and his pecs were spasming under his silk button-down. But it was what was doing behind his fly that she really was impressed by—

The knocking down below on the front door was loud, echoing up the open staircase.

With a squeak, she slapped her palms over her breasts even though there was no chance of anyone seeing her. “Oh, my God, tell me you do not have a roommate.”

Trez had already straightened, and she was slightly alarmed when he produced a handgun from somewhere. “You stay here. No matter what you hear, do not come down until I get you.”

She opened her mouth to tell him to pipe down with the he-man stuff. But then she decided the situation probably didn’t require an untrained, mostly naked female added to the mix.

But hey, at least she had one shoot-out already under her belt.

As she wondered exactly what her life had turned into, Therese nodded. “Be careful.”

Trez didn’t respond to that. He was already rounding the corner and descending the stairs with that gun front and center… and an expression like he was used to killing on his face.

As she heard him close the door at the bottom of the staircase and lock it, she wondered exactly how he was connected to the Brotherhood. She had a feeling it wasn’t just friends or drinking buddies.

He hadn’t been frightened in the slightest.

So clearly, he was well familiar with conflict of the deadly variety.


Trez made sure the door to the upstairs was locked before he moved on the intruder. He wasn’t risking his female’s life for anything, and that included even his own. Getting out his phone, he dialed V’s number.

One ring. Two rings…

As he waited for an answer, there was another series of knocking—and he was aware this was all his fault: His car was right there in the frickin’ driveway. Whoever the fuck it was knew someone was in here, and if they were looking for him—if this was a disgruntled pimp, a pissed-off dealer, or some Mob-connected guy with a hard-on about something that had happened at the club—then he’d led them right to this door.

And that was sloppy.

He couldn’t use that BMW anymore if his female was around—

As his call went into voice mail, someone clicked in on his other line. Taking the phone from his ear, he frowned. Accepted the call.

“Fritz?” he said.

The doggen’s cheerful voice came through in two places: in his ear, and on the other side of the door.

“Greetings, sire! Please excuse the interruption, I was endeavoring to get to your rental prior to your arrival. But I had to go to two places for the proper meat.”

Trez blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Meat, sire.” There was a pause. “Forgive me, but might I enter the premises with your victuals?”

Shaking himself, Trez took two steps forward and opened the front door. There, on the other side, was the ancient butler holding four paper bags by the handles. That wrinkled face beamed.

“You’re looking well, sire! And I shall not take long.”

Fritz brushed by and headed for the kitchen, undisturbed in the slightest by the fact that Trez had a gun in his hand and had been considering the idea of shooting through the door.

Shaking his head, Trez reflected that there were benefits to staff who had been with the Brothers a long time. Short of an H-bomb going off in the living room, little bothered them.

Trez lamely closed the door. “You didn’t have to do this.”

It was as close as he could get to what he really wanted to say.


Hell, on that note, someone could come and take at least one of his legs—maybe both—and he wouldn’t argue with the body-part burglary as long as it got whoever it was the fuck out of this house. And he would have called upstairs and reported that all was well, but he didn’t want his female to feel compromised.

“Listen, Fritz,” he said as he walked through into the kitchen. “It’s cool. I can put everything away.”

Of course, that would be after he went back upstairs and checked on the fire—or rather the mostly naked female standing in front of said combustion.

“But the milk needs to be refrigerated.” Fritz pivoted and opened the GE’s door. “And the meat. And the ice cream.”

Okay, so Trez didn’t care if the milk curdled, the meat spoiled, and that ice cream drooled out of its container.

“As I was saying,” Fritz continued on happily, “I had to go to two stores. The big Hannaford’s steak offerings were not to my liking. I called my butcher.”

At least the doggen was working fast, going back and forth to the fridge, the cupboards, those bags.

“Wait, it’s almost midnight,” Trez said. “You woke the guy up? I’m assuming your butcher’s a human.”

“Oh, you know him. Vinnie Giuffrida provides unto the restaurant Sal’s, as well.”

“Yeah, Vinnie you could definitely wake up. iAm swears by him.”

“Indeed, he took care of us.” With triumph, the butler produced a paper-wrapped bundle and then popped it into the fridge. “And now I am finished here.”

Except Fritz just started to fold the paper bags. Like they were origami sheets. And he was trying to re-create the continental United States out of only one of them.

“It’s okay, Fritz. I’ll do that—”

Trez clapped his mouth shut as the butler recoiled like someone had cursed in front of his grandmahmen.

“Sorry.” Trez put his palms forward. “I, ah, you’re doing great. This is great. This is all so incredibly… great.”

Once again, at least Fritz was fast, but still, the second that last bag was folded flat, Trez wanted to frog-march the butler out the front door. But if suggesting that the doggen needed help was a problem, actually touching the male was going to cause all this forward-motion-back-to-the-front-door to crash to a halt. Grounded in their ancient traditions, Fritz’s kind couldn’t handle any sort of acknowledgment, praise, or physical contact from their masters.

It was like having a hand grenade with a mop around: Very helpful, but you were extremely aware of whether the pin was where it needed to be.

“So thank you, Fritz—”

A strange sound—part thud, part thump—emanated from out behind the house, bringing their attention to the sliding glass doors on the far side of the kitchen table. Through the glass, the security lights come on and illuminated the back deck.

“I think you better go,” Trez said in a low voice. “In case I have to deal with something.”

Fritz bowed low. “Yes, sire.”

And justlikethat the doggen was gone. Which, again, was the good news when it came to the male. Fritz was used to the kinds of emergencies that left bullets and knives in people. He might dawdle with paper bags, but when the shit hit the fan, he knew when to get gone.

As Trez outed his gun again, he was unaware of having reholstered it—and he killed the outside lights with his mind.

The human neighbors didn’t need to see him flashing his piece all around.

Moving through the darkened kitchen, he back-flatted it against the wall by the slider and focused on the backyard—

Freezing in place, he did a double take. “What the…”

With a leap to the slider’s handle, he unlocked the thing and shoved it back on its track. “Are you okay?”

Jumping into the snow on the deck, he tucked his gun and ran over to his female—who, for reasons he could not understand, was lying flat on her back in the snow.

And laughing.

Trez threw himself on his knees and looked up. The window in the bathroom upstairs was wide-open.

“Did you jump?” he said. Which was a ridiculous question. Like she fell out of a double-paned, closed set of Pella? “I mean, why? What—”