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Mine to take, p.12

Mine to Take, page 12

 part  #1 of  Mine Series

 

Mine to Take
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  Her face fell.

  He had to ask her. “Baby, during the fire, did you tell Reese that you were sorry?”

  Her fingers twisted her purse strap. “Yes.”

  Fuck. “Why?”

  Her gaze flashed up to meet his. Anger lit her green eyes. “Because I wasn’t strong enough to get him out of the fire! Because I was using every bit of my strength, and I couldn’t get him out of there!” Her voice rose, catching the attention of two nearby nurses. “Because no matter what I did, I couldn’t get him out of the door, and I was sure that we were both going to die in those flames.”

  He stepped toward her.

  She jerked back. “But that’s not what you thought, is it?” All of the heat left her voice. “I’m not crazy and you—” Sadness tightened her face. “You don’t trust me.”

  “Yes, I fucking do.”

  But she’d already rushed toward the elevator. Swearing he ran after her. He threw out his hand, grabbing the doors before they could close. “I do, baby,” he said again.

  “This time, I’m the one who doesn’t believe you.” Her gaze held his. “How does that feel?”

  Like shit.

  “I’m going to the studio. I have to—I have to talk with the arson investigator.”

  “I’ll come with you.” He started to step into the elevator.

  “No.” Her clipped response stopped him.

  “Skye…”

  Someone else brushed by him. Maneuvered into the elevator.

  “I need a break,” Skye said, her voice hoarse, as if she were trying to fight tears. “Send one of your agents with me, but I need a break.”

  From you.

  He forced himself to step back.

  He held her gaze until the elevator closed.

  Then Trace pulled out his phone. In less than five seconds, he had an agent ready to go. “Be her damn shadow,” he ordered. “She doesn’t take a step without your eyes on her.”

  She might want her space from him, but he wasn’t about to risk her life.

  Chapter Eight

  It was gone. Her second chance had turned to ash.

  Skye stared at the charred remains of her studio. There was nothing she could salvage there. Everything was just…gone. Destroyed by the flames.

  She’d already called her students. Skye had tried to reassure them that she would find another space.

  She hadn’t mentioned that she didn’t have the money to rent another building.

  “Are you all right?”

  She glanced to the left. As soon as she’d arrived at the scene, she’d realized that Alex Griffin was there, waiting on her. He’d come straight toward her.

  He watched her with a guarded expression that made her tense. “Please don’t ask me if I’m about to have a breakdown.” Because that was the way he was staring at her. As if she’d just shatter apart. “I promise, I’m much stronger than I look.” The female cop, Carol—the one who’d given Skye a ride home the previous night—stood a few feet behind Alex.

  And Skye’s newest watchdog from Weston Securities, a guy named Adam Longtree, waited about ten steps to Skye’s right. She’d quickly discovered that Adam was the strong and pretty much utterly silent type.

  “I’m sorry about your studio,” Alex said as he inclined his head toward her. “But I didn’t think you were about to breakdown. I figured if you were, well, you would’ve done that last night.”

  She squared her shoulders. “Then you make one person…”

  “Pardon?”

  Skye blew out a hard breath. She was so seeing her dreams covered by black and gray ash. “You make one person who doesn’t think I’m on the edge of some major meltdown.”

  His eyes had narrowed. “Did you do like I asked? Did you think about Weston—”

  She had to laugh. “Trace isn’t doing this to me. Hell, he thinks I’m doing it to myself.” Her arms felt chilled so she roughly rubbed them. “Trace, the cop up in New York, Loxley—”

  “Uh, yeah,” Alex cut in, “I don’t know who the hell Loxley is, but you should know that I did some more talking with Detective Fuller first thing this morning.”

  “You did?”

  “He got another mechanic to look at the car. There was still no sign of a rear-impact collision, but this guy did find something else.” Her image was reflected back in his dark sunglasses. “All of the brake fluid was gone.”

  “What?” The chill Skye felt got worse.

  “With all the fluid gone, the car couldn’t stop. That night, you were headed into the curve, and you must have tried to brake.” He raked a hand through his hair. “You couldn’t, and the car lost control.”

  It wasn’t just her arms that felt chilled. Her cheeks felt the same way. “Someone sabotaged the car.”

  Carol Jones stepped closer.

  Alex darted a glance at Carol, then he focused once more on Skye. “It certainly looks that way.”

  Someone had been trying to kill her, for months. “I want this to stop.” What did she have to do? What? “I can’t live this way.” Being afraid. Having a constant guard—no.

  “We’ll find him,” Alex said. “Don’t worry.”

  Easy for him to say. It wasn’t his life on the line.

  “With the new evidence, Fuller is re-opening the investigation in New York,” Alex continued. “The jackass doing this is going down.”

  Carol gave a hard nod.

  Skye’s gaze darted between the two cops—and over to Adam Longtree. She wasn’t surprised to see that he had his phone out and at his ear. The guy was probably briefing Trace on this new development right then. Trace… Her gaze snapped back to Alex. “You think that jackass is Trace.”

  He didn’t respond.

  “It’s not.”

  Carol whistled and rocked forward on the balls of her feet. “Having too much faith in the wrong man could be dangerous.”

  “Everything I do is dangerous these days.” She gave Carol and Alex a curt nod. “Thanks for your help.”

  She started hurrying away from them. Longtree immediately fell into step with her. Her big, six-foot-plus shadow.

  “Skye!”

  Pausing, she glanced back at the detective’s call.

  “Tell me you aren’t staying with him.” Tension had hardened Alex’s face.

  “I won’t tell you that.” Because she wasn’t planning to return to Trace then. She hadn’t lied when she told Trace that she needed a break.

  Does he trust me?

  Because, even after everything, she trusted him. She always had.

  “If you aren’t going back to Weston’s place, then where are you going?”

  Her gaze slid to the wreckage. “To find a new studio because I am not going to let my dream be taken from me.” She’d find a way to get the cash that she needed in order to rent another studio. There has to be a way. Skye wasn’t going to give up. She just had to take things—

  One step at a time.

  That was how she’d recovered after the accident. How she’d learned to ignore the pain and just walk.

  One step at a time.

  ***

  Alex watched Skye walk away, his eyes narrowed.

  “She didn’t seem particularly scared to me,” Carol said as she came fully to his side.

  “No, she didn’t.”

  “Seemed more pissed, judging by the look in her eyes.”

  He turned his head and saw that Carol’s gaze was on Skye. He followed Carol’s gaze and watched as Skye climbed into the passenger seat of a waiting car. Her newest guard slammed the door and then headed for the driver’s side of the vehicle.

  “You’re sure she went home with Weston last night?” Alex asked Carol. Dammit, he’d warned Skye. Why wouldn’t she take his warnings seriously? He wanted to help her.

  But he was starting to think she had a death wish.

  “I’m sure that’s where she went. It’s not easy to mistake that guy.”

  No, it wasn’t.

  “He rushe
d her out of the club and into that fancy car of his,” Carol said. “They went to his penthouse and stayed in all night.”

  I warned her.

  “I guess some people like the danger too much,” he said, voice gruff. His sister had been that way. He’d warned her, too.

  Warned her, and buried her.

  Am I going to bury Skye, too?

  “Want me to keep up the detail on her?” Carol asked. Her short, honey blonde hair blew in the faint breeze.

  “Yeah, stay close. If you see anything suspicious, you let me know.” Over her shoulder, he saw that the arson investigator was waiting to talk with him.

  Like he needed the guy to tell him that the fire had been deliberately set.

  That was fucking obvious.

  As obvious as the fact that someone was playing a sick game with Skye Sullivan.

  A game that wasn’t going to end until Skye was dead.

  Just like my sister.

  ***

  This location could work.

  Skye gazed around at the old fire station. Okay, sure, most people wouldn’t think this place was primed to be a dance studio…

  But this can happen. I can make this work.

  Excitement and determination pulsed through her. She’d make this studio even better than the other one had been. She could get started right away. If she worked fast enough, hard enough, then maybe she could even have the studio up and running in three weeks, maybe two.

  The building could work, so now she just had to come up with the down payment for the place. She’d already sold all of her jewelry. Her credit cards were maxed out.

  But…there were a few people who owed her some favors. People like Robert. Maybe…maybe he could loan her the cash—

  “I’m taking over, Adam. You can go now.”

  Trace’s voice. She didn’t stiffen. Didn’t start in alarm. Right then, she was too hopeful and happy to stiffen up.

  Adam’s footsteps padded away, but Trace’s didn’t come any closer to her.

  Determinedly, she glanced to the left. She found him staring at her with a hard intensity in his gaze. “I can put the mirrors there. The barres here.” She gestured with her hands. “The open area in the center will be perfect for dancers’ warm-ups.”

  His gaze didn’t leave her face. That lethal intensity didn’t lessen.

  Skye swallowed. I can even use the upstairs area for an apartment. That will save me money because I can get rid of my place.

  But…she’d just gotten that wonderful security system at her place. She didn’t want to lose it.

  “I think you should hold off on your studio,” Trace said flatly.

  “No.” An immediate denial. She whirled to fully face him.

  He wore a dark suit, one that emphasized the darkness of his hair and made his blue eyes gleam even brighter.

  “Yes, Skye,” he said, voice curt. “You need to slow down. Your last place was torched less than twenty-four hours ago. Don’t you think that was a message? It’s not safe for you to do this. You have to—”

  “I have to make this work. I have to believe that I can do it.”

  Dancing was the only thing that had always gotten her through life.

  When she danced, she became someone else. Someone stronger.

  Without it…I’m lost.

  His hands closed around her shoulders. “It’s too dangerous.”

  “I thought I was the one doing this to myself,” she snapped at him. “Isn’t that the story going around now?”

  “That story is bullshit.” His fingers tightened on her. “You trust me, and I trust you.”

  Her breath caught in her throat. She wanted those words. Wanted them so badly.

  She searched his eyes, wondering if he was telling her the truth…or feeding her the lie he knew she needed to hear.

  ***

  Carol Jones gazed across the street at the old fire station. Skye Sullivan had sure been determined. She’d gone through five buildings, touring them all with her guard right at her side, before she’d stopped at this place.

  “And the guard is gone,” Carol murmured as she watched the fellow hurry away.

  Since Trace Weston had strode into that old fire station a few moments before, the guard’s departure wasn’t a real big surprise.

  But…Detective Griffin didn’t trust Weston. He thought the man was guilty as sin.

  Maybe it wasn’t safe for Skye to be alone with him.

  Carol eased open her car door. Then she headed swiftly across the street. Her phone was at her ear as she entered the alley. “Hey, Griffin, it’s me.” She didn’t wait for him to respond but hurried to add, “Skye was looking for a new building to rent. She stopped at the old fire station on Ninth, and Weston just joined her.”

  “Are they there alone?”

  “I think so. I’m going in for a closer look.”

  “Be careful,” he warned her.

  Always. Carol eased into the alley. Maybe there was a window back there that she could use for a little observation.

  She tucked her phone into her pocket and took a few more steps forward.

  Yes. There was a window. One covered in grime. She leaned toward the bricks, trying to ease up closer to that window so that she could see—

  Someone grabbed her from behind. A rough hand closed over mouth. “You shouldn’t get involved in business that doesn’t concern you,” a snarling voice—a male voice—grated in her ear.

  She reacted immediately, driving her elbow back into her attacker’s mid-section. He grunted and his hold eased, just for a moment. She jerked away from him. Carol grabbed for her weapon as she spun to face the man who—

  He shoved a knife into her chest.

  Carol’s fingers squeezed the trigger, but her attacker was already lunging away from her.

  Her knees hit the ground. The gun slid from her trembling fingers and fell beside her. Her blood soaked her, and Carol didn’t even have the strength to scream.

  ***

  When the gunfire blasted, Trace grabbed Skye. He pulled her against his chest and curved his body protectively around hers.

  One thunderous blast…then, nothing.

  He glanced over his shoulder. That gunshot had come from out back, in the alley. Trace shoved back his coat and pulled out his own weapon.

  “Wh-when did you start carrying that?” Skye asked him. Her eyes looked huge—and scared.

  “I always carry it. I just usually made sure you didn’t see it before.” Because he hadn’t wanted to frighten her away. But this moment wasn’t about reassuring Skye. It was about finding out what the hell was happening in that alley.

  He pushed open the rear door, but he made sure to stay low. To stay covered and—

  “She’s hurt!” Skye’s cry.

  Trace had seen the woman, too. A cop in uniform sprawled on the dirty ground.

  Skye tried to lunge toward the woman, but Trace kept her back. “Wait…” Because whoever had injured the cop could still be close by. Waiting to strike again.

  He looked to the left. To the right.

  A weak moan escaped from the woman, and, at that sound, Skye sprang away from him. She hit her knees beside the cop and reached for the knife in the woman’s chest.

  “Don’t!” Trace ordered as he lunged forward. His left hand flew up, locking around hers. “Leave the blade in.”

  “What?” Skye demanded, expression shocked. “We have to help her! She’s dying!”

  “And she’ll die faster if you pull out the knife.” He’d seen attacks like this before.

  “It’s Carol,” Skye whispered. “Carol Jones. She took me home last night.”

  And she’d apparently stayed around to keep an eye on Skye.

  He released Skye’s hand. “Call 9-1-1,” he told her. “Tell them that a cop is down.” They’d haul ass getting to that location then. He kept his gun in his right hand. The attacker had to be close. He wanted to break away and search for the SOB, but Carol was choking on her own
blood right then.

  Shit.

  He tilted Carol’s head. Tried to help her breathe. Blood covered her lips. Her eyes were hazy, pain-filled.

  “It’s going to be all right,” Trace told her. He wanted the words to be true and not a fucking lie, but the killer had known exactly what he was doing when he attacked. The knife had plunged straight into her heart and…Trace leaned forward.

  The bastard had twisted the blade. For maximum damage and maximum pain.

  “The ambulance is coming,” Skye whispered. “Help’s coming, Carol. Just hold on.” Skye’s fingers curled around Carol’s hand.

  Carol’s breathing seemed so ragged and loud.

  That bleary gaze of hers flickered to Trace, then it darted over his shoulder.

  “You saw him,” Trace said.

  Carol’s breathing wasn’t quite so loud.

  Her gaze darted over his shoulder again.

  “He ran that way?”

  Her lips parted. She tried to speak.

  “Carol?” Skye cried. “Carol?”

 
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