FOUR

GLAD TO BE GETTING THE HELL OUT OF THERE, RYDER CLIMBED into the Jeep, put the key in the ignition, and cranked the engine.

“Now what?” Lily asked, as she closed the Jeep’s passenger door and buckled her seat belt.

Reversing out of the drive, he said, “We need to get your things from the motel.”

“It won’t take long, because I don’t have much. When I ran, I barely had enough time to grab some money and clothes. The only reason I have my toiletries and birth control pills is because they were already in my pack. I didn’t even have time to get my cell phone.”

Birth control pills? Fuck. He wasn’t touching that subject with a ten-foot pole.

When she’d rolled over on the bed that morning, after he’d spanked her, her panties had still been around her knees, but he deliberately hadn’t looked. He’d known that staring at her glossy little bush and maybe even catching a glimpse of the pink folds between her legs was something he couldn’t risk. If he had, it would have been nearly impossible to walk away. And if he’d known she might let him fuck her without a condom . . . Christ. He wouldn’t have stood a chance in hell.

Three years might have passed since he’d last seen her, but the passage of time hadn’t lessened the way he felt about her. In a different lifetime, he would have wanted to thoroughly imprint himself on the woman. To mark her. Ink his claim into her blood and bones, so that he could own every part of her. But that wasn’t the fucking answer. Not in this lifetime. She was too damn young to know what she’d be signing up for with him. And he was too messed up to handle her. Trying to deal with her would drive him bat-shit crazy, and no doubt end up making her hate him within a month. Maybe even weeks. He’d want to tie her up and never let her go. Not for sex, though he definitely liked the idea of her bound and at his mercy. But just to keep her . . . safe. To keep her with him, so she couldn’t ever slip away.

A healthy relationship required trust. Something Ryder knew he didn’t and would never have in him. Not for her . . . and not for himself. And it wasn’t because he didn’t have it in him to stay faithful to a woman he loved and keep his dick in his pants. It was the sheer fact that he would never trust himself not to be a controlling, manipulative asshole.

That, and the fact that he’d be willing to destroy the goddamn world if it meant keeping her safe. If he ever doubted it, all he had to do was remember Minsk and the night his fucking face got ripped open. Then it became pretty fucking clear.

With the short conversation about her things at the motel over, he drove with the radio playing low, the windows down, enjoying the milder weather now that it was easing deeper into fall. He wanted to keep his mouth shut and just enjoy the calm while he kept his eye out for anyone following them. But he couldn’t do it. There was something he had to say.

“Listen, about Mike.” He scrubbed one hand over the top of his head, then dropped it back to the wheel. “Don’t fall for his I’m just a good ol’ boy routine. He goes through women even faster than Jace did.” Jace had been a member of the old unit, and the biggest womanizer the state of Virginia had probably ever seen.

Though he kept his eyes on the road, he could feel the heat of her stare as she turned her head to look at him. “You’re telling me this why?”

“I noticed the way he looked at you back at Ben’s.”

“Hmm. I didn’t notice,” she murmured, sounding uninterested and like she had something else on her mind. “He was nice, but he’s not really my type.”

Ryder snorted, finding that hard to believe. Mike was six-four, dark-haired, and green-eyed, with a face and body that probably stopped women in the street when they saw him. And there wasn’t a single scar that he knew of on the cocky jackass.

She looked his way again. “What? You don’t believe me?”

Rolling his shoulder, he said, “Come on, Lily. The guy’s a fucking Adonis.”

“Yeah?” She lifted her brows when he glanced at her. “You got the hots for him?”

He grunted something gritty under his breath. “No, but I’ve got eyes.”

Lily bit her tongue, wanting to tell him that he might have eyes, but he still couldn’t see what was right in front of his face. Not that it would do her any good. “Well, don’t worry about Mike. I’m not going to embarrass you by throwing myself at him or anything. I doubt I’ll ever even see him again.”

He gave another masculine grunt, and they went back to not talking, until she said, “You don’t think Radovich would do anything to your sister, do you?” She’d never met Ryder’s sister, Shelby, but she’d read about her in his file. They had different mothers and hadn’t grown up together, but when Shelby had been a teenager she’d tracked him down, determined to have a relationship with the brother she’d never even met. She sounded gutsy and loyal, and Lily had a feeling that she’d have really liked her if they’d ever gotten a chance to know each other. She went on, saying, “Some of the things Ben said have got me worrying about it.”

“I don’t think he’d target her.” Stopping at a red light, he turned his head and caught her gaze. “But to be safe I called her in the middle of the night and told her to stay with friends until this is over. She wasn’t happy about it, but I promised her it wouldn’t be for long.”

Oh. So getting rid of her quickly wasn’t the only reason he’d sped up the time frame with Rado. Knowing that made her feel a little better. Not much, but a little.

“I also made calls to the other guys in the old unit.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I kept it short and simple. Just let them know to watch their backs and keep their eyes open. I didn’t mention Rado by name, but they know to be on high alert until I get back to them and give the all clear.”

They reached the town’s cheapest motel minutes later, parking the Jeep in the crowded lot at the side of the long, rectangular building, and then made their way through the front entrance. Lily was pulling the card key out of her pocket, when a woman’s keening cries of pleasure echoed from the room across the hallway. “Wow. Someone sounds like they’re having a good time,” she murmured, sliding him a laughing look.

A grim smile twisted his mouth. “You just couldn’t ignore it, could you?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” She gave a soft laugh as she unlocked the door. They stepped into the room’s narrow hallway, the bathroom on their right, the bed around the corner, out of sight. She shut the door behind him, then turned and leaned back against it.

“What?” he asked warily, studying the look on her face.

“Nothing.” With a little grin, she said, “It’s just that I always wanted to be in a sleazy motel room with you.”

His expression tightened. “Stop talking shit like that.”

“Sorry,” she offered with a shrug. “You asked. I was just being honest.”

He caught her arm as she started to move past him, forcing her to look up at him. “You really wanted me to fuck you in a cheap motel room?”

His rough voice was thick with disbelief, and Lily made sure to put as much conviction into her gaze as she could as she returned his stare. “Sorry to disillusion you, but despite my tender years, my Scott Ryder fantasies weren’t all pink and sweet and idyllic. Yeah, I liked the idea of being held in your arms all night, your body inside mine, while you made love to me. But sometimes . . . sometimes I just wanted you to put me against a door and make me come so hard I screamed, while people out in the hallway could hear every sound.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, the grip on her arm tightening. She thought he was going to push her away, but she suddenly found herself pinned against the bathroom door instead. Then he loomed over her, his face right above hers as he stared down at her. Into her.

With his chest rising and falling from his hard breaths, he squeezed his eyes shut. “Fuck,” he whispered, his voice tight and low.

“What’s wrong, Scott? Did I shock you?”

His lashes lifted, and he glared from beneath his dark brows. “Shut up, Lily.”

It was probably good advice. But she wasn’t going to take it. “You know what? You’ve got a bad habit of bossing people around. If you want me to shut up, you’re going to have to make me.”

His hands speared into her hair, curving around her head as he tilted her face back. “Jesus! You just don’t know when to fucking quit, do you?” he growled. And then his lips were on her lips, his mouth claiming hers in a hard, violent kiss that was deep and wet and screamingly good. As far as first kisses went, she would have been willing to bet every penny to her name that this one topped the scale. He knew how to do things with his mouth that should have been freaking illegal, the raw, devastating hunger she could taste on his lips and tongue making her whimper with need. He kept complete control, tasting every part of her, the way he breathed and groaned and held her tighter as he sucked on her tongue letting her know exactly how much he was enjoying it.

“Scott,” she panted, when he let her come up for air. “I need you so—”

“Don’t make me say it again. Shut up, Lily.” Ryder licked his bottom lip, tasting her there, and went back for a deeper taste of her intoxicating mouth. He didn’t want to hear what she needed. He just wanted to keep losing himself in her, pretending there wasn’t a mountain of reasons why he should stay the fuck away from her. Moving one hand to her ass and the other across her back, he kept her against him as he turned and went down on his knees, then laid her on the carpeted floor. He’d followed her down, his mouth still eating at hers as if she were some kind of fucking necessity, like water or air. But he couldn’t let her be something that he needed, and he had to make sure she understood that going in. So when he finally pulled back for a ragged breath, he looked her right in the eye and forced himself to say, “This is just sex. Do you understand that?”

“Whatever,” she groaned, gripping his hair as she tried to yank him back to her. “Just don’t stop. God, don’t stop.”

Stop? He couldn’t have stopped if the cheap-as-shit ceiling crashed down on their heads. He’d wanted this for too damn long, and now that he had the feel and the taste of her under his mouth and hands, he couldn’t get enough of it. The way she responded to him was so fucking hot, it only made him that much more desperate to have her, his cock hardening to the point of pain. Christ, his goddamn hands were shaking.

Shoving her shirt up, he pulled the cups of her bra down and straddled her hips on his knees. Then he stared down at her pale, pink-tipped breasts. Hard. “Jesus,” he groaned, curving his hands under the tender mounds. “You’re so fucking beautiful.”

“You like them?” she whispered shakily.

“I fucking love them. Your tits are perfect, Lily. Fucking perfect.” He lowered his head, rubbing his nose between the soft, firm mounds, then turned his head and blindly took one of her tight, pink nipples into his mouth and sucked on her, working the delicious peak with his tongue. He hadn’t spent nearly enough time doing this when he’d had her against his front door the night before. There was no way to describe how goddamn incredible she tasted or smelled, her scent making him light-headed, while the taste of her skin just made him fucking hard as nails. At this rate he was going to do some kind of permanent damage to himself if he didn’t get inside her, his head only getting lighter as what felt like every ounce of his blood rushed to his dick.

Using one hand to lift her breast to his mouth, Ryder ran the other down her side, loving the way she trembled when he swept the curve of her hip then pushed his hand between her legs, palming her through her shorts.

“I need to touch you,” he panted, ripping at the button on her shorts then yanking them down with her panties. It wasn’t easy, since he couldn’t stop sucking on those firm, perfect tits long enough to move away, but he managed to get them past her knees. She helped him with the rest, working one foot free so that he could spread her legs wide and move between them. His hand went straight to her pussy, and this time there was nothing to keep him from stroking her bare skin, her tender folds slippery and warm beneath his callused fingertips.

“You’re so fucking soft,” he groaned against her breast, sinking a finger inside her. Then another. He nipped at her, then dragged his tongue across her shiny nipple. “Soft and tight and drenched.”

“I want you. So much. I always have,” Lily moaned, breathless, her hips arching against his hand, his long fingers driving her wild. “Now get your damn shirt off so I can look at you. I think I’ll go crazy if I don’t get to see how beautiful you are.”

“Christ. Don’t say that,” he grunted, sitting up just long enough to pull his shirt over his head and toss it behind him before bracing himself back over her on one muscular arm, while his other hand reached between her legs again.

Staring up into his rugged features, Lily thought the expression on his face was so strange. He looked outrageously pissed, but . . . fascinated, as if he liked what he was doing but . . . but didn’t want to like it.

“Are you always like this when you want a man?” he asked her, thrusting his slick fingers back inside her.

She shook her head, gasping as he reached even deeper, the base of his fingers stretching her tight flesh even wider.

His fingers instantly stilled, a small crease wedged between his brows. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she whispered. “It’s just that you’re stretching me. A lot.”

“I know.” He started rubbing her swollen, sensitive clit with the callused tip of his thumb. “Now come.”

She blinked as he came down over her, the feel of his hard, muscular chest pressing against her breasts bringing another gasp to her lips. “What?”

“You heard me.” His voice was a dark, dangerous rasp in her ear. “Come. Now. Let me feel it.”

Before she could tell him that she didn’t know how to orgasm on demand, he had his mouth back on her breasts, sucking and licking at her tight nipples until she could feel each rhythmic pull of his mouth between her legs, mirrored inside her sex and her clit. She was pulsing around his pumping fingers in a snug, wet clinch, the thrashing sound of her heartbeat roaring in her ears, growing steadily louder, until it all crashed down on her in a shocking, wrenching eruption of pleasure that had her sobbing and shouting, the muscles in her sex clamping around him so strongly he could barely move his fingers inside her. She had her nails buried in the hard muscles in his shoulders, her eyes squeezed tightly shut as she rode out the powerful waves, surging along with the crazy swells until she was finally floating in a calm, mellow lake of bliss. Her body felt steeped in heat, and she was so wet between her legs she could hear the slick sound it made when he eventually pulled his fingers free.

Seconds later, she heard him growl deep in his throat, the angry, guttural sound bringing her eyes open just in time to see him pulling one of the long fingers he’d had inside her out of his mouth. She cringed, wondering what was wrong with her, when he snarled, “You shouldn’t be allowed to taste like this. It’s fucking unreal.”

Oh! Um, then what was the problem? She shook her head with confusion. “And that pisses you off why exactly?”

“Because now,” he bit out, licking off the glistening juices that shone on his other finger, “the taste of your cunt is all I’ll be able to think about.”

She started to smile, but ended up gasping instead when he suddenly growled again . . . and shoved his face against the very place where his fingers had been. Her back arched as she felt his clever tongue hungrily licking between her drenched folds, and then pushing up inside her, unable to believe how wickedly good it felt. He was working her with a hot, delicious tongue-fuck, his hands digging into her thighs so tightly she knew she’d be bruised. But she didn’t care. She just wanted to keep feeling this forever, the reality of having Ryder’s mouth on her so much more mind-blowing than anything she’d ever imagined. It was heart-stopping. Would have ruined her for other men if he hadn’t already done that all those years ago, without ever even laying a hand on her.

“I can’t get enough of you,” he groaned, suckling her clit as he shoved those two fingers back inside her, and Lily could feel that blinding, blissful madness start to overtake her all over again. She came screaming this time, hands gripping his hair, pumping herself against his face in a shameless need for more as he replaced his fingers with his tongue, moving it in and out of her. She shouted his name, holding nothing back from him. Not even the parts she knew he didn’t want. That she doubted he even thought about, like her heart. But she wasn’t going to let that stop her.

“Get inside me,” she panted, struggling for breath as she blinked him into focus and watched him slowly lift his head from between her legs, his mouth wet with her juices. He flicked his tongue across his top lip, then the bottom one, so unbelievably sexy she felt a fresh wave of heat and need flood her body, melting her down. “Please, Scott. I can’t wait. Don’t make me wait. Just do it.”

•   •   •

AS LILY’S HUSKY words echoed through his head, Ryder suddenly flinched. He felt like a bucket of ice water had just been thrown in his face. Jesus. What the hell had he done?

“We have to stop,” he said in a low voice, knowing he had to get away from her. That instant. Before he took this someplace they couldn’t go.

“Stop?” She blinked, looking confused. Not to mention completely adorable, with her shirt tucked up under her chin and her face all flushed from her orgasms. “Now?”

Hell yes now. Before he lost what little control he still had left. “We can’t do this here. We’ve got to go, Lil.”

“Go?” she whispered, bracing herself on her elbows as he sat back on his heels and reached for his shirt. She watched him pull it on, then shook her head, sending the strawberry blond waves spilling over her shoulders. “I thought we were having sex. You said, ‘This is just sex.’”

His voice came out like a snarl. “We did.”

“Did what?”

“Have sex,” he muttered, careful not to look any lower than her face.

“Then did I miss something?” she asked slowly, starting to sound pissed. “Because I have a feeling I’d know if your dick was inside me. I seriously doubt that’s something that would go unnoticed, even if you weren’t huge. Which I could easily tell you are when you were grinding against me this morning!”

“You got oral sex,” he grated, using the bottom of his shirt to wipe his mouth. “And you came twice. So why the hell are you complaining?”

Her eyes went wide, just before she suddenly scrambled away from him. She used the fall of her hair to hide her face as she quickly sorted out her panties and shorts. “Oral sex!” she muttered under her breath, lifting the cups of her bra before tugging down her shirt. “I can’t believe you!”

He glared at her as they moved back to their feet, his dick so hard he knew he was going to be in hell until they finally made it back to his place, where he could grab a freezing-cold shower. Not that it would help. Now that he knew how fucking sweet she tasted, and how hot and wet her tight little pussy could get for him, he doubted anything but a long, hard, bed-breaking fuck would sort him out. Which meant he was seriously screwed, because he needed to keep his goddamn hands, as well as his dick, off her. Not in her!

Shoving his hair back from his brow, he stepped closer and got right in her face. Well, over her face, since he was so much taller than she was. “What is your problem?” he demanded. “It’s not like I left you hanging. You came so hard you were screaming and damn near yanking my hair out!” Which he’d loved every second of, and wanted again. The sooner the better.

“Yes, your tongue is incredible and you made me come,” she seethed, her green eyes glittering with fire, hands fisted at her sides. “That’s not the point. The point is that I thought you were offering more. I thought I was getting the complete act, with you over me, holding me down, fucking my brains out!”

He scowled, determined not to let her know how much her words affected him. “Where the hell did you learn to talk like that?”

She looked ready to stomp her foot with frustration. “Like what? An adult? A woman? News flash, Scott: I grew up. A long time ago. You need to get your head out of your ass and realize I’m not that gangly seventeen-year-old you met all those years ago.”

“I know you’re not seventeen.” His hooded gaze did a swift pass down her body, before locking back on hers. “And you’re sure as hell not gangly.”

“Then stop treating me like I need a time-out.”

“I’m just trying to be . . . realistic.”

This time Lily was the one who made a sound like a growl. “God, you are so frustrating!” She fought the urge to kick him in the shin, figuring she’d end up breaking a toe in her sandals, and forced herself to turn around instead. She was standing at the end of the small hallway now, and the instant she faced the room she had to reach out and brace her hand against the wall. “Oh, shit.”

“Son of a bitch!” he snarled from just behind her, obviously staring over her head and getting his first look at her room as well. The next thing she knew he had her trapped between his back and the wall, protecting her with his tall body, a gleaming black 9mm gripped in his powerful hand. She blinked, shocked that she hadn’t realized he had the gun tucked into the back of his jeans. He kept her behind him as he edged toward the side of the closet, kicking it open with his foot, making sure no one was hiding inside. He did the same with the bathroom, snapping for her to stay plastered to his back as he checked behind the curtains and under the bed. Only when he was certain the room was clear did he turn around and glare down into her eyes, the scar on his face turning white with his anger. “I swear to God, Lily. You make me lose my fucking mind.” His deep voice was low and clipped. “I can’t believe I was eating you out on the goddamn floor when there’s a psycho killer on your ass!”

“You think it was Rado’s men who trashed the room?”

He didn’t answer the question, a muscle pulsing hard in his jaw as he looked away from her, taking in the destruction. The bed and pillows had been slashed, the pieces scattered all over the floor, along with the smashed drawers from the upturned dresser and nightstands. Whoever had done this wanted to scare her. It was textbook crime movie stuff, meant to incite panic and fear.

“Get what you need and do it quickly,” he said in a flat voice. “We need to get out of here.”

“Do you think they’re still here?”

“I think they’re probably watching the place. So we need to move. Now!” He slipped the gun into the back of his jeans again and grabbed the small, cheap duffel bag that she’d bought a few days ago, shoving her scattered clothes into it. She ran into the bathroom, grabbing the makeup she’d left on the counter, giving it to him to toss into the bag with her clothes. Then he threw the strap over his shoulder, grabbed her hand, and pulled her toward the door. “We’re heading to the Jeep from the side exit and you’re staying right behind me. Understood?”

She nodded at his back, trying to get control of her fear, knowing it wasn’t going to help anything.

His voice was hard and rough as he shot her a sharp look over his shoulder. “Tell me you understand, Lily.”

She huffed at his tone. “I understand. I’m not stupid.”

“Stupid, no,” he muttered, opening the door and carefully checking the corridor in both directions. “But you are definitely stubborn as hell.”

She bit her tongue, knowing better than to argue with him as she followed him to the side exit. He kept checking to make sure they were alone, and despite the potential danger, she felt safe because she was with him. He crouched down, quietly telling her to do the same, as they made their way into the full parking lot. They stayed behind one of the rows of cars as they headed toward the Jeep, the lot thankfully empty of other people. She’d just started to breathe a little easier, thinking they were going to make it, when two thugs came out of nowhere. One second she was behind Ryder, his strong hand wrapped around her wrist, and in the next he’d shoved her to the ground, ordering her to hide under the SUV they were in front of as he dropped her bag and faced off against the two dark-haired assholes.

She didn’t hide. She was too terrified for his safety to do more than crouch by the SUV’s bumper, ready to help him if she could, but worried that she’d only be in his way. It’d been so long since she’d seen him fight—she’d always loved to spy on his sparring sessions when she’d been younger—and she briefly wondered if it would be like she remembered . . . or if civilian living would have lessened his skill and intensity. But she’d been stupid to question his abilities for even that brief second. He wasn’t as good as he’d been, he was even better, his body moving with a powerful, lethal grace as he immediately went on the offensive. He smashed his elbow into one guy’s face, blood spurting from the man’s crushed nose as he flipped the thug over his shoulder and slammed his booted foot into the jaw of the other one. Then the guy with the gushing nose fired a wayward shot from the gun he’d yanked off his ankle, making her scream, but Ryder was in full control. He didn’t even have to pull his own weapon. He simply spun, grabbed the gun, and tore it from the man’s hand while slamming his knee into his groin. As the guy doubled over, snarling something in a Slavic language, Ryder punched him in the face, knocking him out just as the other one jumped on his back. Within seconds he had the man flipped over his head and sprawled across the hot asphalt. With a well-placed kick into the bastard’s face, Ryder left him in the same shape as his partner, both of the idiots bleeding and unconscious.

Shoving the thug’s gun into her bag, Ryder threw the strap back over his shoulder and took a death grip on her hand, jerking her to her feet and hustling her toward the Jeep. He didn’t waste any time getting her inside, then made his way around the front, tossed her bag in the back, and climbed behind the wheel.

“Now what?” she asked, gripping the seat belt with both hands as she watched him crank the engine.

“Rado has obviously figured out where you’re at,” he said, not even winded from the fight, though he flexed his right hand as if it was sore, before curling it around the steering wheel. “That means he most likely knows you’re here with me. We have to assume that my place is being watched.”

Her grip on the seat belt tightened. “Which means what?”

His expression was grim as he turned his head and looked out the back window, peeling out of the parking space so fast the tires squealed in protest. “It means we can’t go back there,” he grunted, giving her a hard look before accelerating out of the lot. “So I’m taking you to that safe house.”

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