But Sammy doesn’t understand why her last message from Vincent threw her into Max’s arms…and Max doesn’t know if he can trust telling Samantha he’s a wolf, much less that his wolf wants to mate her.
But if the only way he’ll be strong enough to avenge their beloved’s death is if they’re together, what choice do they have?
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Read on for an excerpt!
In my dreams I could pretend the sounds I heard were fireworks or drums, not gunfire, but when I woke to Vincent shaking me I knew our life together was through.
“Sammy, get up. Now.”
I sat up instantly. The shots were closer, faster, matching the double time of my heart. The Carmino family was coming at last.
Vincent shook me again. “Go,” he demanded, his eyes dark. He was beautiful and stern and muscles in his arms bunched, bracing for a fight. “Wake up. This is it. You remember what to do.”
I stumbled up and out of bed and snatched my robe off a chair. “Okay –” I ran for the bathroom, realized he wasn’t following me and turned. “I’m not going without you.”
“Yes you are.”
“But –” This wasn’t how we’d run the drills. When we’d practiced them, we’d both escaped.
“Things have escalated.” He stepped onto the bed and then off of it again to reach my side. Why wasn’t he going for the guns? I knew we had them, under the mattress, and in the closets – “They’re not going to let me live. And I don’t want to watch you die.” He took my shoulders in his hands and held so tight I knew I’d be bruised.
“This is really it?” I asked, my voice small. I’d lost so much in my short life – I couldn’t imagine losing him, too.
He didn’t answer me, just pulled me in for one last kiss, lips and teeth and tongue. I kissed him just as hard back. If this was good-bye, I wanted to take part of him with me, to always be able to put fingers to my lips and feel the piece of himself he’d left there. He pulled back before I was ready – I’d never be ready –
“I love you. You know what to do. Go.”
Leaving would mean never coming back – and knowing that Vincent was gone. Another round of gunshots neared.
“Go!” he demanded, his gaze clouding. I could hear the fear creep into his voice – not for himself, but for me, that I’d get caught here with him. It was the only thing that made me run. I wasn’t afraid of dying – but I didn’t want to make his death any worse than it already would be.
“I love you,” I whispered, and ran for the bathroom door.
We’d practiced escaping, like elementary school kids practiced crazy-killer drills – talked about what we would do, how we would survive, where we’d meet up again in time. I never thought I’d be running alone though, without him – but he did. I looked under the bathroom sink, and there was only one backpack there. Goddamn him. I grabbed it and threw the ladder out the window where it would be hidden by the chimney and took the rungs on it two at a time. Halfway down I heard the shots get nearer, with shouting – and then everything stopped. I let go of the ladder without thinking and fell eight feet down, into a bush.
Vincent was dead. I knew it. I clutched my hands into fists to keep from screaming, and gathered myself to run for the treeline.
I snuck out the back of our compound, past men already gloating, and reached the street.
My first stop was blocks away, a gas station that we’d copied the bathroom key for. I let myself in and sank to my knees on the dirty tile.
He was gone. He’d always be gone. They’d killed him, taken him away from me and now I would never see his face again, feel his touch, lie purring against his chest after sex. All of that was in my past – and once again, the only future I had was on my back. I put my head in my hands and let myself cry.
Get it together, Sammy. His voice snapped at me in my head, and I caught my breath like I always did when he spoke like that. Sometimes I was bad on purpose to make him have to use that tone – other times, I’d genuinely screwed up. It’d been followed by a whip’s bite enough times that it made my world narrow down to just him from habit. What did he want? How could I make him happy?
But he wasn’t here anymore. In my head, or otherwise. I blinked and realized I was curled up on the bathroom floor. I didn’t know how much time had passed. It could’ve been minutes – or hours.
Come on, Vincent. Talk to me again, baby.
I waited, hoping beyond hope, and nothing answered. I was alone. But – I looked at the backpack by my knees. I did know what he wanted, and what would please him most. Me, living, even if my only reason for living was gone.
I bit my lips not to cry and stood up, putting the backpack into the sink.
My new life. Here we go.
The clothes, shoes, and wig I’d packed months ago were still in the bag. I put the clothes on and shoved the robe in, right beside several thousand dollars in twenties – which wouldn’t be suspicious at all if I ever got pulled over. Just leaving the strip club, officer.
Then I opened up the front pouch of the backpack. There was a charged burner cell phone and an envelope full of new drivers licenses. The top one said I was Sarah Hartford, and there were ten more below it, all with different names. Vincent had thought of everything – except for how I was supposed to live without him.
I pulled the wig out and tugged it on, going from long blonde hair to shoulder-length brunette, wishing that looking like a different person would really make me one.
The last thing to do was the only one I hadn’t practiced. I reached for the heavy silver chain around my neck and let my fingers sink down to the locket it held. It’d been a gift from Vincent. Oval, small, and silver, not ostentatious at all. I’d never taken it off, not even when it clashed with what I was wearing.
I fingered the locket and looked at myself in the mirror. My relationship with Vincent would be hard to explain to anyone in the outside world. He was a gangster, and I’d been a whore. Normal people would make assumptions, and say that we were broken. Shit yes we were, but what we’d had was good and real.
Which was why when he told me not to open the locket unless he’d died, I’d listened to him and never had. He trusted me. It was a token of his love, and it’d become a good luck charm. On some subconscious level I believed peeking would cause Vincent’s demise, and that not looking could somehow keep him safe.
But that hadn’t worked, had it.
What was inside? Diamonds to sell? Cyanide to poison myself with? A picture to remember him by? I carefully pried it open with a thumbnail. Inside was a small piece of paper. I took it out, unfolded it, and found a series of numbers – it was a phone number I didn’t recognize.
The only thing left to do was call. I turned on the cellphone and dialed.
Three rings – six rings – who the hell was I calling? Why didn’t you tell me, Vincent? – and a gruff voice answered. “Who is this?”
I didn’t recognize the voice. In the four years since I’d been given the locket, Vincent had never once taken it back. Maybe whoever had had this number in the past didn’t anymore, maybe they’d been killed by the Carminos too –
“How’d you get this number?” the man on the other end of the line asked, sounding annoyed.
“Vincent.” Either his name would mean something to this stranger or it wouldn’t.
There was a thoughtful pause at the far end. “Why’d he give it to you?”
I didn’t know – but I thought fast. It hadn’t been a birthday, Christmas, or an anniversary gift. It was when things had started to take a dark turn, when he’d been out later, getting his hands bloody, forced by the family to do things he didn’t want – I bit my lips and gave an answer I knew to be true.
“He wanted you to keep me safe.”
The man contemplated Vincent’s request. Then: “Where are you at?”
I gave him my address.
“You’re way too near eastside. Can you get to International and 35th?” He named a cross-section on the south of town.
I knew about the southside. I didn’t want to go there, but I could. “Yeah.”
“I’ll be there in thirty.”
“K.” I began to put the phone down.
“Hey –” he shouted, getting my attention again. “Destroy whatever he gave you that had my number on it. I don’t care how, but don’t throw it away.”
“All right,” I said, but it was too late, he – whoever he was – had already hung up.
I stood there in the bathroom, swaying like a losing prizefighter, pummeled by my loss. Vincent was gone. I would never see him again, never hear his laugh, never know his pleasure. All of my memories – photos, hard drives, quickly scribbled love notes on pieces of paper – with him were back inside our house, and going back would be suicide. The locket around my neck was the last thing of his I had. I reached for it and hid it protectively inside my shirt. That – and this – the small piece of paper I held, that he’d written the stranger’s number down on for me, just in case of tonight happening.
I stared at the phone number, memorizing it without meaning to – and then put it in my mouth and swallowed it to destroy it like I’d been told.
What was one more bitter pill after a long and bitter night?
I knew where southside was because I used to work there. Our city straddled a county line, dry on one side, wet on the other, creating a mini-Las Vegas along the edge. Along with the looser liquor laws on the southside came looser women, some in strip clubs, some standing around outside of them. I’d been both, at different times. Walking towards the neon lights of the Liquor Barns I’d like to say it wasn’t so seedy then, but while prostitutes might wear rose colored glasses, none of us actually saw the world through them.
I walked like I belonged, tough enough not to be a victim, but not so tough as to be a threat. I could have jogged to the intersection in fifteen minutes, but the only people who moved quickly down here were running from the cops.
Vincent had saved me from this life. Going back felt like admitting defeat.
I passed a group of people, head bowed, while watching them from the corners of my eyes and listening in case they followed me.
I know you wanted better for me than this, baby. You can’t be sending me back here. I reached up to touch the locket and caught myself. I didn’t want anyone I was passing to think I had anything worth stealing.
Vincent always knew what was best for me – better than I did myself. He’d shown me that, time after time. And he wouldn’t betray me, even after death. I reached the intersection and stood in a shadow, putting my back against a wall.
I just had to keep trusting him, like I always had before.