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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 20


No One Else Can Have Her

Lucian

Maureen Fitzgerald crossed her long legs at the ankles and smiled her enigmatic smile at me.

“What’s so important that you insisted I cut my Parisian shopping spree short?” Her tone was well-­modulated. Her posture and diction served to remind her audience of private boarding schools and summers in Europe. Not a single chestnut hair dared escape from the classic twist. Her jewelry was expensive yet tasteful, and her tailored pantsuit exuded both style and money.

But I knew better. The real Maureen was more impressive than some daddy’s girl with an inheritance. Like me, she’d created herself out of the nothing she’d been given. Also like me, she’d built a safety net of money, power, and favors.

In her fifties, she managed to turn more heads walking into a room than most of her employees. Which was quite the statement, given the fact that she was in charge of a bevy of beautiful sex workers who kept the wealthy Washington, DC, elite satisfied.

I handed her an espresso on a delicate saucer and took a seat on the edge of the desk I’d commandeered. The hotel manager was outside, probably nervously pacing and wondering why the man who owned this place and signed her paycheck was using her office to meet with the most notorious madam on the East Coast.

“I need information,” I said.

“Don’t be greedy, Lucian. It’s unbecoming.”

“Don’t pretend you feed me out of the generosity of your heart, Maureen. I’ve made your life easier in a number of ways.”

It was a symbiotic relationship we shared. She divulged information on any problematic clients her workers encountered, and I used the information to make sure there were no further problems. Depending on the individual in question, my tools ran the gamut from blackmail to sometimes more creative means.

“Sooner or later, someone could draw a connection between us, and then where will we be?” she asked before taking a delicate sip of espresso.

“We’re both too cagey for that.”

“Hmm. How very optimistic of you. But people get distracted. They get sloppy.”

“Is that why your name came up in connection to Felix Metzer’s untimely demise?” I asked, dropping the information like a dead body at her feet.

Her face remained perfectly impassive, but I didn’t miss the rattle of china when she set her cup down.

“Who have you been talking to?”

“Someone you’re lucky enough is too stupid to connect any dots. He assumed Felix was a client.”

“What a limited imagination your little birdie has,” Maureen said, patting her hair.

“Why were you seen having lunch with a man who was—­by all accounts—­a likable, networking, criminal middleman until his body was fished out of the Potomac?”

She sighed. “First tell me why you’re involved.”

“Felix sold a list with my friend’s name on it to Anthony Hugo. Hugo made it known that every name on the list needed to be eliminated.”

“You have friends?” She arched an eyebrow, her brown eyes sparkling.

“More like family,” I said.

“Then you already understand.”

“Understand what?”

“Felix is…or was family. We were cousins in what feels like a past life. We grew up together. I went my way, he went his. But we stayed in touch, met up on occasion. Never anywhere that someone would recognize me, of course. I have a reputation to uphold.”

Except someone had recognized her, and now Maureen was my only lead.

“Did Felix ever talk to you about work?”

“We thought it best not to discuss our professions. Plausible deniability and all that.”

“But you would have looked out for him. You would have had an idea of the company he was keeping,” I pressed. Maureen was a caretaker at heart and a guard dog when necessary.

“Why are you focusing on Felix and not Hugo? Lord knows that man has broken enough laws to earn a few lifetime sentences in prison.”

“Someone who wasn’t Hugo put my friend’s name on that list for reasons I want to know. That person needs to pay.”

“Sounds like someone had a vendetta against your friend.”

“I need to know who.” Even if Anthony Hugo finally went down for his crimes, there was still someone out there who thought of Nash Morgan as a threat. And I wouldn’t rest until I had them.

Maureen studied her pale-­pink nails. “As I said, we didn’t discuss business.”

“That’s never stopped you from acquiring information before.”

She inhaled deeply. “Fine. Not all of Felix’s friends were on the wrong side of the law. Some of them at least worked on the right side.”

“A cop?” I asked.

“There was a gentleman—­and I use that term loosely.” She glanced at her discreet Cartier timepiece. “He showed up at a family backyard cookout this summer. I wasn’t there, of course. My aunt mentioned that Felix’s cop acquaintance made quite the little show of introducing himself around as Felix’s ‘old friend.’ It rattled my cousin, which was not an easy thing to accomplish.”

“So you looked into him?”

“Someone gets that close to my family, and I will do what’s necessary.”

“Name,” I demanded.

She lifted her slim shoulders. “It won’t do you any good in this case. Seeing as the man was shot and killed after an abduction gone wrong last year.”

I swore under my breath. “Tate Dilton.”

“Very good,” Maureen said, impressed.

I shoved a hand through my hair. Did it really all lead back to him? Did all these loose ends tie up with Dilton’s corpse?

The man had a grudge against Nash for taking Ogden’s position as chief of police. But Dilton had been the triggerman the night Nash was shot. Why would he have put Nash on an elimination list—­a coward’s move—­if he was going to be the one to shoot him anyway?

“According to my digging, he wasn’t the brightest crooked cop on the payroll,” Maureen said. “I warned Felix to stay away from him. But he obviously didn’t listen.”

If this was true, I’d wasted the last weeks chasing down a fucking ghost.

“I see this news isn’t exactly welcome,” she noted. “But I’m afraid I don’t have time to stick around to find out why. I have a previous engagement.”

“I’m sorry for cutting your trip short,” I said gruffly, walking her to the door.

She gave me a peck on the cheek. “Time spent with you is never wasted, Lucian. But you do owe me a very nice gift. I’m thinking something from Hermès.”

My lips twitched. Maureen had a maternal fondness for me.

We said our goodbyes, and Maureen left through the private elevator to the parking garage.

I thanked the manager for allowing me to commandeer her office, then headed for the marble lobby.

It was the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, and the self-­important murmur of DC’s young and elite nearly drowned out the live piano music in the bar. I’d been one of them once. Now I was something wholly different.

Everyone was either a pawn or a king. The pawns wanted to grow up to be kings, and the kings missed the innocence of being a pawn.

He ruined you. He ruined us.

Sloane’s words from the previous weekend echoed in my head.

She didn’t know what she was talking about. She didn’t know me. She certainly wasn’t in any position to judge me. I’d meant what I said. Happiness wasn’t for everyone. I preferred security. I’d built a life that was impervious to any threats.

“How did it go, boss?”

Nolan leaned casually against the concierge desk, his fingers in the bowl of mints.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded.

A raucous burst of male laughter rang out from the bar.

Nolan straightened from the desk. “A little bird of prey named Petula told me you had an important, after-­hours meeting. And after that tail you had to shake and Holly’s trouble, I figured you might want some backup. At least until I saw Maureen Fitzgerald walk out of here on a security monitor a minute ago.”

“Spying on your employer isn’t generally a smart business move,” I pointed out.

“Eh. You say spying, I say having your back.” He unwrapped a mint and popped it into his mouth. “Did the lovely madam have any information on our deceased pal Felix?”

I scanned the lobby. It was crowded with well-­dressed, well-­funded people certain of their importance. Men and women who spent their days chasing power or catering to it. I nodded in the direction of the bar.

“Don’t have to ask me twice,” Nolan said and followed me.

Forest-­green walls, dark wood, and paintings of hunts on the English countryside made the bar feel like an old-­money country estate library.

We created a space for ourselves at the end of the mahogany bar where we were sheltered from prying eyes and ears by a thickly carved column.

I caught the eye of the bartender and held up two fingers. He nodded and snagged a bottle of bourbon from the top shelf.

“She may have just closed the book on who put Nash’s name on that list,” I said, keeping my voice low.

“I’m all ears.” Nolan looked at ease leaning against the bar, but his eyes were constantly scanning the room. You could take the man out of the marshal service, but you couldn’t take the marshal out of the man, I supposed.

The bartender delivered the bottle and glasses with a hesitant fold at the waist.

“Did that guy just bow to you?” Nolan asked.

“It happens,” I said.

He shook his head and sighed. “To walk in your shoes for just a day.”

“It’s not nearly as entertaining as it looks,” I muttered.

“Oh, I’d find a way to have some fun,” he insisted.

He probably would. Some people were cut out for a life like that. Each day was an endless source of entertainment and enjoyment. Sloane’s life would be like that. She’d choose a man who would make her laugh. Who’d be home for dinners. Who’d wake her up on a lazy Sunday morning with an adventure planned.

My jaw clenched.

I was important, respected, and feared. Yet all I could think about for the past week was Sloane’s accusation that I’d wasted my life on the wrong things.

“Tate Dilton,” I said, keeping my voice low.

Nolan’s gaze landed back on me. “You’ve got to be shitting me.”

I shook my head. “She mentioned a family party of Metzer’s that Dilton crashed. He made a show of getting close to his family. Probably to drive home a point of just how close he could get.”

“Playing a little ‘look at me eating your mom’s potato salad and playing horseshoes with Uncle Joe so you better not fuck me over,’” Nolan mused.

“That’s what it sounds like. And Metzer disappeared while Dilton was still alive. So it’s possible he’s the answer to both questions.”

“That would leave only Hugo on the revenge list. And since you’re already working with you-­know-­who on that, it sounds as if your to-­do list just got a lot shorter.”

I grunted. “But why would he have put Nash’s name on the list and then be the one to pull the trigger?”

Nolan shrugged. “The guy was an opportunistic egomaniac. He saw a chance to take out the guy who booted his buddy from his job. Then he got the opportunity to get paid to be the one to do the taking out. Hated him enough to want him out of the picture but not enough to make it happen until someone sweetened the pot with a cash offer.”

It made sense in that it was a stupid move and Tate Dilton had been full of stupid moves.

I frowned over my drink. “I don’t like the connection to Felix and the feuding Hugo father and son. How would a crooked small-­town cop land on any of their radar?”

“Criminals are like one big inbred family. Dilton didn’t just suddenly up and go bad like an avocado. That boy had been rotting from the inside for a long time. He could have done a favor here for Daddy Hugo and worked a job with Hugo Junior over there. Hell, you know, a bunch of bad guys sit down for a friendly poker game when one henchman says he’s looking for a getaway driver, and another henchman says, ‘I got a guy.’”

“That’s possible,” I agreed.

“You’ve seen Dilton’s finances. That dumbass was sitting on a lot more money than just a cop’s salary. It didn’t all have to come from the same employer.”

Raucous laughter echoed from the opposite end of the U-­shaped bar where several men were gathered in a tight circle. Probably around a woman, I guessed.

Nolan sniffed the bourbon appreciatively, then sipped. “Damn, that’s good. Do they just keep a bottle here for you in case you show up?”

“It pays to own the hotel,” I said dryly.

Of course there were drawbacks, like the hungry eyes zeroing in on me. Some wanted to make deals. Others wanted to stand close enough for a photo op. Still others wanted to get even closer in hopes of being chosen for a more intimate kind of fun.

“Ever get the feeling like you’re in a zoo?” Nolan asked observantly.

I smirked. “Only every day.”

“You could try being less handsome. I mean, I’m a straight guy, but even I know a suit daddy when I see one. Maybe shave the beard, lose a few teeth,” he suggested.

A tall blond wandered by with a seductive swing to her hips. She was dressed in Alexander McQueen, and I could smell her cloying perfume from six feet away. The hair was what caught my eye, but I immediately rejected her. She didn’t have green eyes and glasses.

Damn it.

I set my glass down with a snap.

Ever since she’d shown up at my office, it felt like Sloane had infiltrated this life too. Not just the one I carried on periodically in Knockemout. I needed to get her out of my head. I’d tried everything over the years. Except one thing…

That one thing slammed into me like a train. The fastest way for me to get bored with a woman had always been to take her to bed. Sex always triggered a countdown clock. Once the hunt was over, so was the interest for me.

A vision of Sloane perched on my desk, her thighs and lips open for me, had my blood racing to my cock.

“So if that fuckface Dilton is the one, then it’s case closed. At least on that end of things,” Nolan said, oblivious to my predicament.

I gritted my teeth and willed my body to have some fucking self-­respect.

“As long as Anthony Hugo doesn’t get it in his head to revisit the list,” I said.

“It would be stupid, not to mention pointless. The CIs who stuck around after finding out Hugo had a target on them were all shipped off courtesy of WITSEC. If anything happens to any cop on that list, Hugo knows he’s the first person they’ll look at,” he pointed out.

“Let’s make sure it was Dilton,” I decided.

Nolan nodded. “I’ll have one of our guys or gals pay Metzer’s family a visit and see if they remember him. Maybe Metzer told one of them something about the prick.”

“Do it.”

There was another burst of merriment, accompanied by a flash of blond. This one did have green eyes and glasses. Sloane Walton in bloody murder red was in the center of a circle of men vying for her attention. Every muscle in my body went rigid. The erection I’d almost willed away was back in full force.

“Of all the hotels in all the capitals,” Nolan muttered. “You want me to stick around and make sure you don’t need help disposing of a bunch of bodies?”

“No. Go away.”

“I’ll have Petula ready with bail money,” he said, putting his empty glass on the bar and tossing me a salute.

I was already on the move, the gravitational force of Sloane pulling me across the bar like it was an inevitable event.

Every step that brought me closer made me angrier, more frustrated. I didn’t want to want her, but I didn’t want anyone else wanting her either. Wading my way through her admirers set my teeth on edge. She was sitting on a bar stool in a dress and lipstick that arrested the attention of any red-­blooded male within a thirty-­foot radius.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded crisply.

She tilted her head back to look up at me as I loomed over her. Those red lips pinched into a disapproving frown. “Oh, no. Not today, Satan.”

“Can I buy you another drink?” the guy on her right asked, trying to reclaim her attention.

“No, you can’t. Go home,” I snapped.

Sloane bared her teeth at me before turning to the moron hoping to get lucky. “Don’t listen to him. He’s permanently insufferable,” she said, laying her hand on his sleeve.

Two of the younger men behind her were whispering. I heard my name mentioned.

Good. The sooner this flock of idiots realized who I was and that I didn’t want them anywhere near her, the better.

“Uh, it was nice to meet you, Sloane,” the blond one with too many teeth said, shooting me a nervous glance.

“Yeah, we have to…uh…” His friend in too-­tight Hugo Boss hooked a thumb toward the door.

“Go,” I snarled.

Most of the crowd scampered off like half-­terrified squirrels.

“What is your problem, Lucifer?” Sloane demanded.

“The answer is always you.”

She slid off her stool and marched up to me. “I have an idea. Why don’t you go fuck yourself and leave me alone with…what was your name again?” she asked, looking toward the man who obviously didn’t know any better.

“Porter,” he said with a thick Southern accent.

Porter. I rolled my eyes. He was too eager, too “aw shucks, ma’am.” And I hated the fact that he made Sloane smile.

“I’ll make you a deal, Porter. I’ll pay your bar tab—­including the drinks you’ve already bought my wife—­if you leave in the next ten seconds.”

“Y-­your wife?” he sputtered.

“I’m going to murder you with an olive skewer,” Sloane hissed.

Maybe I couldn’t make her smile, but I was the one who made the color rise in those smooth cheeks. I was the one who started the emerald fire in her eyes.

Porter held up both palms and took a self-­preserving step back. “I’m so sorry, man. I had no idea.” His eyes darted back to the impressive cleavage on display above the square neckline of Sloane’s dress. “Uh, if it doesn’t work out, you go on and give me a call.”

The power of the woman’s draw was enough to override any instincts for self-­preservation. I knew the feeling.

Sloane and I were too busy scowling at each other to watch him leave.

“Lina was right. You’re a cockblocker, Rollins,” she said, climbing back up on her barstool. The bartender appeared eagerly in front of her.

“Can I get you something, Sloane?” he asked.

“No. The lady was just leaving,” I said icily.

Sloane rested her elbows on the bar and cupped her chin. “Don’t listen to the tall, dark lord of the underworld. I’d love another dirty martini.”

The bartender’s eyes skated to me again. I shook my head.

“Sorry, Sloane. Boss won’t let me,” he said and disappeared down the bar.

She spun around on her stool. “The boss? You own this place?”

I couldn’t focus on her words. Only her mouth. Those red-­slicked lips that had tortured and taunted me for years.

“Are you here with someone?” I demanded, drawing out the stool next to hers and sitting.

“I was about to be until you went all you on my starting line.”

I closed my eyes. She wasn’t here on a date. She was here to get laid. One night. One night, and we could put this all behind us finally.

“You’re not picking up a stranger in my hotel.”

Her spine straightened and she lifted her glass. Her nails were painted a sparkly purple. She wore a trio of bracelets on her right wrist and dangling earrings that danced when she moved.

“Fine,” she said. She drained the last of her martini and set the glass down on the bar. “I’ll pick one up someplace else.”

She shifted on her stool to turn away from me, but I was faster.

I gripped the suede cushion between her parted thighs and dragged her closer.

The little gasp that escaped her lips had my cock stirring. We both stared down at my hand she was now straddling. The hem of her dress tickled my thumb. Her smooth, bare thighs caressed the sides of my fist. I could feel the heat from her core.

I pulled the stool even closer until her legs slid between my own. An inch. Maybe two. That was all that separated the heel of my hand from the heat of her core.

“Have you lost your already addled mind?” she hissed.

But she didn’t push me away, didn’t slap me like I deserved. No, the woman put here on this earth with the sole purpose of irritating me spread her thighs ever so slightly wider.

It was a trap. I was sure of it.

“Probably,” I admitted. I signaled the bartender for another round. The poor kid looked moderately scared.

The feel of her caged between my legs was intoxicating. It had been a stupid move designed to get a rise out of her, yet I was the one with a stone-­hard erection and elevated heart rate.

“Can’t you just go back to your evil lair and forget we ran into each other?” she asked.

Go home with the knowledge that she was picking out a lover and taking him back to her hotel room? That she was undressing for him, letting him see things I’d never earned the right to see? Letting him touch places I could only dream of?

Her breasts rose against the confines of her dress. There was nothing subtle about the view the square neckline provided.

“Why are you here?” I demanded again.

“To get laid, and you’re really messing with my mojo.”

My jaw tightened.

“Go ahead. Say something so I can give you the sex-­shaming lecture before I kick you in the balls,” she challenged.

It was a legitimate threat. If she moved forward, her knees would be within striking distance.

“I thought you were getting serious about…dating,” I said.

She shrugged and the motion drew my attention back to her cleavage. My cock throbbed painfully against my zipper.

“I was. I am,” she corrected. “I just haven’t met anyone worth dating, let alone anyone I’d let give me a few orgasms. So here I am. Sex is a good stress reliever.”

“So you’re just going to pick up a complete stranger and let him touch you?”

“You do not get to judge, Rollins. I’m willing to bet you’ve had more than your fair share of uncomplicated one-­night stands.”

“I’m not judging,” I lied.

She peered over my shoulder at a man ordering a beer, and my grip tightened on her stool. “No,” I said.

“You need to back off or I’m going to end up wasting a night in a hotel room with my vibrator.”

Spots danced before my eyes.

She squirmed almost imperceptibly on the stool. The movement brought her forward, giving my hand a brush of hot satin just as her knee settled against the ridge of my dick.

Fuck.

Those green eyes widened, her ruby lips parted, and there was no mistaking the quickening of her breath. Hot, damp flesh taunted me from the other side of her fuck-­me underwear.

I was tired of fighting. Tired of fighting with her. Tired of fighting my baser desires. It was self-­destructive to want the only woman who had shattered my life. Who’d broken my trust. Who had landed me behind bars and very nearly ruined my life before it had even begun.

Yet here I was, closer than I’d ever been before and still not close enough.

“What if you didn’t have to pick up a stranger?” I said, shifting my hand just enough to press harder against her sex.

Her nostrils flared delicately, making the stud in her nose sparkle. But she still hadn’t moved away, still hadn’t threatened to rearrange my face. “What exactly are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting you go upstairs now. With me.”

Her long lashes fluttered behind her glasses, and she shook her head. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”

“You’re here. I’m here. It’s been a while for me too.” I wanted to shift my hand, to hook my finger in the band of satin that stood in my way. I wanted to slide it to the side and stroke my knuckles over that soft, tempting flesh.

“We can’t stand to be in the same room together. What makes you think I’d let you inside me?”

Inside her. She was teasing me now. Planting images in my mind of how she’d look the first time I drove into her.

The pulse at the base of her throat fluttered. Her breasts rose and fell as her breath came in short, delicate pants.

“It’s an itch that needs scratching. Not the beginning of a relationship,” I said dryly.

“Your capacity for romance knows no bounds.”

“What’s the one thing we haven’t tried to stop whatever this is between us?” I pressed.

“Murder?”

“Sex,” I countered.

She blinked and the color rose in her cheeks. “You’re serious.”

“One night,” I offered. “We get this insanity out of our systems.”

“We don’t even like each other. How am I supposed to let someone I don’t like do naked things to me?”

I let the heel of my hand press harder. “Because I’ll make it feel so good you won’t care.”

Her pupils were dilated, candy-­red lips parted.

Our drinks appeared on the bar, but neither of us looked at them.

“Of course, if you don’t think you could control your feelings—­” I began.

She tossed her head back. “You can’t double-­dog dare me to get into bed with you, smart-­ass.”

A man in Armani sidled up behind her and leaned on the bar. Sloane, sensing new quarry, peered over her shoulder. She flashed him the sunny smile that I never got out of her. The idiot looked as if he’d won the lottery, then glanced at me.

“No,” I said coldly.

I held his gaze and stroked my thumb over the middle of the damp spot I found on Sloane’s underwear.

She jolted, nearly knocking over her drink. To steady herself, she gripped my arms.

“You sneaky son of a bitch,” she hissed. Her knee was now pressed firmly against my balls.

“Either you and I go upstairs now, or I shadow you for the rest of the night,” I warned.

“You devious bastard.”

“Decide.”

“Fine,” she said with a careless shrug. “I’ll fuck your brains out for one night only. But don’t think this means anything.”

This victory was a sweeter, headier rush than any I could remember.

“You have five seconds to finish your drink,” I told her, signaling the bartender again.

She picked up her martini, eyes narrowed.

“Five, four, three…”

She took one fortifying gulp, then put the glass on the bar. The look she sent my way was the definition of antagonistic.

Neither of us was walking away this time.

With a mix of reluctance and anticipation, I removed my hand from between her legs and coasted my fingertips down her thighs.

“Let’s go.”

I threw some cash on the bar, gripped her arm, and pulled her toward the elevators. As I did, I brushed my thumb over my lips and savored the faint flavor of Sloane Walton.


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