No windows. No open doors. No way to prevent the walls from closing in. Rachel Kline shut her eyes and battled a looming panic attack.
In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Hold. And repeat.
The relaxation technique she’d learned in Dr. Hamilton’s office failed miserably, taken down by the severe stench blend of vomit and urine invading her nose. She gagged, barely fighting off a second gag as she shifted on the cold metal seat. Rachel’s pink Converse slid into a gooey substance puddled on the floor. That summed up the last five hours—one big, inexplicable glutinous mess that had started with a Nevada-bound flight and ended in a cliché.
A Las Vegas jail cell.
Despite tight quarters, mysterious substances, and glares from her holding cell acquaintances, she’d do it all over again if it meant helping her friend.
“Are the accommodations not lofty enough for you, princess?” came the smoke-ravaged voice that had become like nails on a chalkboard during the last hour. “You want me to talk to the manager? Maybe they didn’t realize that they had royalty right under their noses. Go ahead and tell them again that you don’t belong here. I’m sure they’ll listen this time.”
The older woman’s chortle elicited a few snickers from the others. No fewer than twelve pairs of eyes watched the exchange, waiting for one of them to say or do something to offend the other, and take part in a wrestling match. Rachel didn’t plan on doing either.
She summoned the blank, dead stare that came all too easily and locked her eyes on the other woman. “You really like hearing yourself talk, don’t you?”
Rachel’s insulter jumped to stilettoed feet. Her red-stained lips pulled into a snarl, and she pointed her spindly, needle-tracked arm at Rachel accusingly. “You think you’re too good for the likes of us? Is that it, bitch? You think your shit smells like fucking roses?”
“I never said that, or anything close to it.” After a three-month imprisonment by the drug world’s Dr. Frankenstein, Rachel related better to the women in this holding cell than she did to her own family.
She got them. She understood them on the most basic level, including understanding how living in a drug-hazed cloud of no responsibilities, no inhibitions, and no regret made life pretty darn easy. Hard happened after the cloud disappeared and the guilt swept into its place. Hard happened when you hadn’t been there for your friend when she needed you.
The woman stepped closer, her movement jerky. “Squeaky-clean, wholesome princesses don’t get swept up in brothel raids, and you got tossed in the back of the van just like the rest of us.”
“I told you once, and I’ll tell you again, I was looking for my friend.”
“We’re all looking for a friend, honey. It’s why we do what we do and who we do it for. Maybe that’s where your friend is…Did you ever think of that? Maybe she performed her duties so well that the higher-ups took notice. Or maybe she couldn’t hack it and she’s already gone.”
Rachel lurched to her feet, her earlier panic forgotten as she stood nearly nose to nose with the other woman. “She’s not gone.”
“Tone down the bickering.” A middle-aged guard appeared on the other side of the bars. His chunky fingers fumbled with his massive key ring until he slid open the door. “Rachel Kline. Let’s go.”
Rachel faced off against the other woman’s condescending glare, careful not to so much as bat an eye despite her heartbeat pounding in her ears.
“Don’t make me set the damn hose on the two of you,” the guard warned. “Dammit, Stella. Back the fuck off. I don’t get paid enough to deal with your shit.”
With a quirk of her red-stained lips, the other woman took a small step back, wiggling her fingers. “See you around town, princess.”
Rachel hoped to hell not.
At a hurried clip, she followed Officer Marrow down the long corridor and toward out-processing to collect her belongings. Not that she’d had much. After listening to Carly’s voice mail that morning, she’d barely managed to grab her driver’s license, much less anything else.
“One wallet. Six hard candies. And a buck seventy-five.” The out-processing officer crammed her things into the divot beneath the glass divider along with pen and paper. “Signature on the dotted line.”
“Did anyone find a small black backpack? I think I must’ve dropped it at the…uh…place.” Rachel signed for her items and slid the roster back into the hole.
“There was a whole lot of shit confiscated at that raid site, but no bag.”
That wasn’t what she wanted to hear, and she couldn’t give a list of its contents because she didn’t know what was inside. Carly had left that bit of information out.
“I’m going to give you a bit of advice, hon. Go home,” Officer Tooley suggested. Except for the fact that she was decked out in the desert uniform of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the silver-haired officer could’ve easily passed for Sophie Hansen, the woman who’d practically raised her and Penny from the time they’d reached double digits. “A girl like you doesn’t belong in cesspools like we raided tonight.”
“We’re in agreement there, believe me. But I can’t leave until I know my friend’s okay.”
The older woman flashed Rachel a sympathetic look. “I hope for her sake, and yours, that you find her and she’s not someplace worse.”
Rachel hoped that too.
Carly’s not being at the brothel would’ve been comforting if she hadn’t said in her last message that she’d be there—and that if she wasn’t, something was wrong.
“If I’m not there, you need to get the contents of the black bag to the authorities,” Carly had instructed. “And you need to be careful, Rach. He’ll do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Carly hadn’t clarified who he was, or what was inside the bag. She’d hung up, and Rachel’s every attempt to get in touch with her had failed.
For the usually stoic, independent woman to admit that level of desperation, things had to be bad. Thanks to what they’d both been subjected to in Honduras, bad for them was pure hell on earth for others.
Stepping into the waiting room, Rachel looked around for the recipient of her one and only phone call. An eclectic array of people sat in the green plastic chairs, including a few handcuffed to the armrests, but no Charlie. And the pink-haired
Alpha operative wasn’t someone who could be easily missed.
After a second scan, she opted to check outside. Warm desert air washed over her, a blessing after the putrid stench of the holding cell. Rachel savored the clean scent and leaned heavily on the front railing. Her hands trembled, her body showing its relief at no longer being trapped in close confines. The more violently they shook, the tighter she clutched the banister.
“If it isn’t the redheaded jailbird finally taking flight. Took you long enough to make an appearance, darlin’. I started to think you chiseled your way out instead of taking the easy route.” The familiar deep voice caressed Rachel like silk.
Keeping her back toward its owner, Rachel tried in vain to compose herself. Counting to a hundred and performing thirty minutes of meditative yoga wouldn’t do a damn thing when it came to Logan Callahan’s presence.
She mentally braced for impact and turned toward the flirty Texan.
Over six feet of solid muscle and southern charm, Logan leaned casually against the red brick of the police station. Worn blue jeans encased muscled thighs, and a red plaid button-up shirt, its cuffs rolled to his elbows, revealed strong, corded arms.
And his hands…
Rachel nearly drooled there on the walkway as his fingers massaged the brim of the black Stetson in his hands. Personal experience had taught her that those hands had more talent than most people had in their entire bodies—and not because he was an Alpha sniper badass.
For one blissful night, she’d experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of those hands—and afterward, she’d woken to reality. It was hard to believe she’d slunk out of Logan’s bed a mere twelve hours ago—well, technically it had been her bed.
“Cat got your tongue?” Logan’s mouth lifted at the corners.
Gray and gleaming with mischief, Logan’s eyes never strayed from her face, but tingles erupted over every inch of her body. The same thing had happened last night, and, if she was honest with herself, every time they were within an eyeball’s glance of each other.
Rachel crossed her arms over her chest like a shield. “Charlie was my one phone call.”
Logan flipped his hat and propped it back on top of his mop of wavy blond hair. “She’s on assignment.”
“She didn’t say anything about an assignment when I called.”
“Guess Stone must’ve assigned it to her afterward.”
“What about Penny?” Rachel challenged.
“Battling a serious case of morning, noon, and night sickness compliments of the little Ortega that’s taken residence in her uterus. And before you start running down the Alpha roster, I’m it, darlin’. I’m without assignment and happened to be in town scoping out the Mil-Tech convention for the boss man. Keep up this line of questioning and you’ll have me thinking that you don’t want me here.”
She needed structure. She needed order. She needed to keep her head on straight if she was going to find Carly before it was too late. None of that would happen in Logan’s presence, and it had nothing to do with his abilities because, as with everyone else associated with Alpha, with him failure wasn’t an option.
The deficiency lay entirely with her.
“Do you want to tell me why you came all the way out here to take a walk on the wild side? Pennsylvania has jails that you could’ve visited without wasting your frequent-flier miles.” Logan’s tone remained light, but there wasn’t a doubt in Rachel’s mind that he knew the significance of her setting foot on a plane.
Confined spaces sent her heart into her throat. An entire plane ride trying to swallow around an organ? Not a pleasant experience. “I told Charlie—”
“That Carly was in trouble, but you were pretty vague as to what kind. Are we talking relationship issues, work problems, or a combination of the two?”
“It’s not something that you’d understand.”
Something flashed in his eyes, there and gone so fast Rachel didn’t catch it. Logan’s usual wide, easygoing smile tightened. False bravado. She’d perfected that techn ique too, so Penny and the others would stop worrying over her.Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Logan pushed himself off the wall and closed the six-foot distance between them. Stopping less than a foot away, close enough for her to see the slight tic in his jaw muscle, he drilled her with a fixed stare. “You’d be surprised at both the depth of my understanding, darlin’, and my observational skills. You came all the way out here to help Carly, yet you’re the only one I bailed out of the clinker.”
“There was no bail exchanged because I was never charged. And don’t act like I owe you some huge favor. I called Charlie nearly two hours ago. I think the wait makes up for you having to cut your vacation short.”
Logan cocked up a single dark-blond eyebrow. “It may have been a matter of wrong place at the wrong time, but you were at a freakin’ brothel moments before the place was raided. Or did I get that fact wrong?”
Rachel’s cheeks heated. Earlier nausea long forgotten, she pierced him with her best eat-shit-and-set-yourself-on-fire glare. “If you have something to say, cowboy, say it and stop dancing around the question we both know you want to ask. Actually, on second thought, don’t. Because it’s none of your damn business.”
She turned away. After one step Logan gently snatched her elbow and whirled her back. Taken off guard, she didn’t have time to put on the brakes. Her chest collided with his, and then he held her captive.
“It is my business, darlin’.” Logan’s voice was deceptively calm.
“The last time I checked, I was responsible for my own actions. If I want to kill over a year of sobriety with a trip into the lower dregs of Vegas society and a good ol’ brothel visit, then that’s what I’m damn well going to do. So you, Logan Callahan, can kiss my—”
“I’m going to kiss you quiet if you don’t stop talking for one damn minute!” Logan trapped her face between his palms. “I know you weren’t at that house looking for a magic carpet ride.”
Rachel grasped her anger with both metaphorical hands. “You do, do you? And how exactly do you know that?”
Logan smirked, his lips widening as her annoyance grew. “Take that burr out from beneath your saddle and stop searching for a reason to be pissed off at me.”
“I don’t have to look too hard.”
“You didn’t seem angry when my mouth was kissing the hell out of you last night—or this morning. Did I snore afterward? Or maybe it was me hogging the covers that had you running out the door without so much as an ‘I’ll see you later.’”
“I don’t have time for this conversation—or your ego. Because like you said, Carly wasn’t in that jail cell with me, which means she’s still out there somewhere.”
Logan looked as if he wanted to say something, his gaze momentarily dropping to her mouth before he gave a slight nod. “What did Carly say during her phone call?”
“It was actually a series of messages scattered throughout the week, but it was the one she left last night that has me worried. Something has her scared of her own shadow, Logan, and that’s why I went to that hellhole. She said she was in big trouble and the only way to get out of it was stashed back at that house.”
“What was it?” Logan asked, all business.
“I don’t know. She didn’t say, and the police raided the place before I walked the length of the first room. This is my fault. I should’ve checked my voice mails sooner. I should’ve taken her calls. I should’ve listened to them before this morning, and I didn’t.”
“How were you to know that something was wrong?”
“Four phone calls in a day, Logan. I usually hear from her once a week, twice if she had a rough day at work. I didn’t listen to her messages until hours later. To an addict in the midst of a crisis, one minute could mean the difference between life and death…but hours?” Rachel’s voice cracked. She averted her gaze, guilt clawing apart her insides. “Some way to repay someone for quite literally saving your life.”
Carly had done that and more.
If not for her going against Diego Fuentes and leading Rachel, Penny, and the other women to safety, their bodies would’ve been buried beneath the tons of steel and concrete that made up the Fuentes compound.
Logan cupped her cheek, and on reflex she tilted into his touch, butterflies fluttering around in her stomach.
The flirting jokester, the man quick to whip off a snappy retort or flash an audacious wink, was gone, and in his place was a much more stoic version. Logan’s gray eyes softened, the slight wrinkles around them more evident with the downward tilt of his mouth.
“Rachel.” His calloused thumb caressed her cheek.
His gaze darted around her face as if he didn’t know exactly where to focus his attention. She wanted him to kiss her, to touch his mouth to hers and leave her incapable of speech—or thought. His gaze flickered to her mouth, and for a brief moment she thought she’d get her wish—until those same eyes dropped to her chest.
“Get down!” Logan’s body lurched, his arms wrapping tightly around her as he knocked her square off her feet and onto the hard ground. Copyright 2017 April Hunt