Wicked as Secrets – Chapter One

Washington, DC

July 1

The second Madison Archer-Pershing climbed out of her Mercedes coupe, the night air smothered her, thick and oppressive. She refused to let it choke her as she slammed her car door behind the expensive, exclusive building she wasn’t supposed to know about.

This day had been more than two long years in coming. No more waiting. Starting now, she was taking her life back. She intended to confront her husband, Todd, in the secret apartment he kept to engage in activities that violated their vows and to tell him she wanted a divorce.

He wouldn’t care about losing her, only about how it looked. And to save appearances, he’d be ruthless. The whole family would be.

Madison was prepared.

As she marched for the covert door under the old-money lobby, the one erected so drug dealers, underworld business associates, mistresses, and hookers could enter without being detected, her heels clicked on the concrete. No surprise a lot of DC insiders lived here. The secrecy was undoubtedly what had persuaded her husband to conceal a place on the top floor.

Finding it had taken her over a year. Naturally, she hadn’t thought to look for his clandestine den of sin during their whirlwind romance or even the early days of their marriage.

Her Uncle Martin had introduced her to Todd, the only grandson of the esteemed Senator Winston Pershing, at one of those hoity, do-nothing benefits. She’d felt so out of place, but he’d set her at ease with his charm and attention. He’d asked her to go sailing the next day. A week later, he’d insisted that she was a breath of fresh air, and he was falling hard.

After Matt Montgomery’s romantic hit-and-run weeks earlier, she’d felt abandoned. Heartbroken. Oh, he’d had good excuses and he had eventually called—to hook up again. Same song, different verse in her love life, but this tune had been particularly wrenching because in a mere weekend, Matt had rewired her body and stolen her heart. The pain of his rejection had made her vulnerable to Todd’s smooth talk and BS. She’d believed every word because she’d wanted to.

At the time, she’d been twenty-four and too naive, not to mention a little starry-eyed at all the wealth, glamor, and beauty of Todd’s privileged political world. He rubbed elbows with ambassadors. He played golf with the VP every now and then. He had the Speaker of the House on speed dial. He was even on a first-name basis with the president. And he had wanted her, an average girl from Cajun Country in Louisiana. He hadn’t seemed to care that she knew more about fishing than setting a proper table or that she’d never traveled the world. God, he’d made her feel so special.

Looking back, she suspected Todd had known about her bad luck with romance. And her bad taste in men…

Weeks later, he had proposed, giant rock in hand, swearing he couldn’t live another day without her. Coupled with Uncle Martin’s persuasion, she’d seen no reason not to say yes.

Mere days after they exchanged vows, reality began to set in.

At first, she’d tried to make their union work, fixing Todd’s favorite dinners and wearing her sexiest lingerie. She had helped, supported, and cheered for him. She’d genuinely tried to understand him. Wasn’t that what married couples did? She’d listened to, empathized with, and soothed him. Whenever he’d been upset, she had given him encouragement and affection. She’d been there.

None of that meant a damn thing to Todd, and after enough of his drunken nights out and “friendships” with questionable women, she’d given up, accepting that she was merely a prop—a sweet-as-pie, small-town bride who had “reformed” him after he’d been caught in a compromising situation with a not-quite-legal Georgetown coed—something she hadn’t known about until after the wedding.

The potential scandal had been hushed down to an urban legend, explained away as “misinformation,” then intentionally overshadowed by their elaborate nuptials. Money had changed hands and favors had been granted, so the press had willingly parroted the family’s fixer’s spin that the incident had been fabricated by his grandfather’s political enemies. Of course, Todd had never touched the girl.

Madison scoffed. If it wasn’t hush money or child support, why did her father-in-law write the former student a hefty check every month?

She hated the lies, hypocrisy, and fabrications. She couldn’t stand another day of plastering on a smile as fake as the Pershing family image. So she’d begun planning her exit months ago. Tonight, she would tell the son of a bitch exactly where he could go.

Under the venerable building, she passed a couple of suits with earpieces. Security. Would they prevent her from entering? Madison kept walking like she belonged. Neither man stopped her as she waltzed onto the basement-level elevator and ascended to the top floor. The doors opened into a foyer that was an impossible step up from the ultra-swanky lobby. Naturally. Only the best for Winston’s golden boy.

This morning, she’d swiped Todd’s keys while he slept off a drunk that had him stumbling in at four a.m. and copied them all. She’d returned his ring an hour before his brief appearance at the family’s Sunday dinner a few hours earlier—a ritual the Pershings undertook for the press and the public, not any real desire for togetherness. As usual, it had been somewhere between stilted and silent, except for Todd’s mother filling it with meaningless chatter about coming social events and the important members of the press the family, Madison aside, must dazzle. Since she lived in Todd’s background, unless they needed her for an appearance or a photo op, reporters were told she was “unavailable” that day. Her entire existence was a hollow lie.

She’d rather have the bleeding truth over a pretty delusion.

She stomped to Todd’s door, half expecting goons standing guard to stop her. But she saw no one.

Clearly, her darling husband hadn’t expected any intrusion on his vice this evening. All the better for her.

Her hands shook as she slid the key into the lock and pushed the door open. Since Todd often came home smelling like sweat and sex—if he came home at all—it wasn’t hard to guess what he did here. But it was early. Hopefully, he was still alone, not coked-out and having an orgy.

She crept inside, then quietly shut the door and scanned the apartment. Of course, the place would be as upper crust as Todd’s upbringing. It had a staged quality, as if no one actually lived here, merely used the square footage for show.

The contemporary sofas with their low-slung backs and minimalist pillows in creams and grays were European and had obviously been chosen by a big-budget decorator to perfectly accent the moody, monotone art above the sleek fireplace. The cost of the bleached zebrawood flooring could feed an average family for a year. It gleamed from wall to wall, giving the apartment an unbearably wealthy, hip vibe. A tall, onyx statue of a galloping horse provided an unexpected, masculine flair. It shined black in the moonlight beaming through the bare floor-to-ceiling windows with unfettered views of the city, seemingly swallowed up by the foggy night.

On the far end of the room, an overtly masculine bar ran the length of the room’s lone exposed brick wall, bisected by shelves lined with overpriced crystal and even more expensive booze. A black cabinet with mirrored doors and underlit glass countertops sat beneath, littered with a couple of glasses and an open, half-empty bottle of scotch older than her.

To her right sat a pristine kitchen—Miele appliances, white oak cabinets with marble counters waterfalling to the floor, a bold black backsplash, and a custom range hood. Pity. She doubted anyone had ever cooked here.

Sudden, muffled male voices sent Madison’s head zipping around. Todd was here. Who with? Damn it, she hadn’t wanted to confront him in front of others, but he hadn’t left her much choice. Besides, she didn’t want to put off freeing herself for even another moment. And some curious part of her was dying to know what went on in this place.

Glass shattering from another corner of the apartment startled her. Her heart picked up its pace when a guttural shout followed. The growl sounded full of rage, especially when a thud—like someone being slammed into a wall—followed.

What the hell was going on?

Madison bit back the impulse to call out and ask if anyone needed help. But the air in the unit felt…off. Over the last two and a half years, she had become well acquainted with the taste of malice. It sat acrid on her tongue. Bitter anger thickened the flavor.

She swallowed down fear she didn’t understand, grabbed her phone in case she needed to call 911, and tiptoed toward the voices, avoiding an overturned vase, probably priceless, now shattered all over the floor. The furious huffs and hisses grew louder and more insistent. She listened, giving into her screaming instinct to start rolling video.

“Don’t fuck with me,” Todd warned in a voice Madison almost didn’t recognize. She’d heard him pissed off, annoyed, and even incensed. This voice was harsh and full of unrelenting rage.

Suddenly, her heart thrashed like a wild thing in her chest. Foreboding burned her skin.

“Are you threatening me?” snarled another man whose voice she knew well, Brent Westbrook. “Think twice. And get that knife away from my fucking throat.”

Madison couldn’t see them, but those words gave her a visual very quickly. She slapped her free hand over her mouth. Why would her husband intimidate his favorite cousin and carousing buddy? More often than not, whenever Todd did something questionable, Brent was by his side. What could they possibly be fighting about?

“No, man. You’re not fucking up a good thing. I have to stop you.”

How? By doing what? He wouldn’t really hurt Brent, right?

Madison’s brain raced a hundred miles an hour. Should she confront Todd and break up this terrifying altercation? Or call the police? The family would be furious. And if this got violent, would the cops reach them in time to stop anything?

“People are going to find out,” Brent pointed out. “It’s a matter of time…”

“Because you’re a fucking bastard!” Todd roared an inhuman sound. “You’re not pinning this on me…”

“It’s the swamp, man. If I have to drown a rat to get ahead, I’ll do it. Your granddaddy will save you, as always. Now let me the fuck go. We both know you’re not going to kill me.”

“That’s what you think. I should never have fucking trusted you. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Then a grunt mingled with more of Todd’s snarls. Some thumping ensued, as if the two men battled by slamming against walls, thudding their way across the hardwoods and onto a tiled area that echoed. The adjoining bathroom? The bang of a door striking the wall resounded, followed by more indistinct struggles. Then a shout full of terror split the air.

Madison crept forward, fingers shaking as she eased open the bedroom door. The cautious part of her brain told her to stop, to run, to get away. But as if she was in a dream, her feet took her forward until she stood in the doorway.

The gaudy room was dominated by a black platform bed flanked on all sides by glossy wood walls layered with mirrors. Since her husband had always liked to look at himself, she knew without asking that he had sex here. But that didn’t faze her the way her glance into the extravagantly masculine attached bathroom and the two men fighting to the death did.

Todd panted, pressing a serrated kitchen knife to Brent’s throat. “Die, you motherfucker.”

Her husband’s voice dripped disdain the way his body dripped sweat. He flexed his arm and slowly pressed the blade in. Brent’s choking as he fought back filled her with horror. Madison was still trying to think of a way to stop this when Todd, who had five inches and forty pounds of muscle on Brent, yanked the blade across his cousin’s throat in one long, vicious swipe, severing his neck nearly to his spine.

Seconds later, Todd backed away. The body fell to the shower pan with a horrible thud of finality. After that, only Todd’s heavy breathing resounded above her pounding heart. The horrible scene filled her phone screen.

Madison bit her trembling lip. Oh, my god. Her husband had just killed his own cousin. His friend. And she—along with her footage—was the only witness. She hadn’t had any illusions about the kind of man Todd was for a long while, but she had never imagined he had the cold blood to murder, especially Brent.

She had to get out of here. Before he saw her. Before he had any idea she’d ever come.

After two years of marriage, she knew how the Pershings functioned. This death, like Todd’s statutory rape of the coed, would be hushed up—no matter what it took. If that meant sacrificing her to keep her mouth shut, the senator and his team would have no compunction. And Todd certainly wouldn’t miss her. He had never wanted a ball and chain—his words—in the first place.

Still, she felt frozen, as if she were trapped in a nightmare she couldn’t wake from. Her legs felt leaden, her thoughts jumbled, her system in shock.

Until Todd spit on Brent’s body, then started to climb from the shower, his previously blue button-down and gray shorts splashed with seeping red blood.

As soon as he turned, he would see her standing there. She had to flee.

Pressing her lips together to hold in a scream, Madison crept back through the bedroom door. Her heart slammed against her chest. Fear burned her tongue as she maneuvered out of Todd’s line of vision. She tried to catch her breath.

“Fuck,” Todd muttered as he seemingly rustled around for something. Then a few moments later, he spoke again, his voice horrifyingly calm. “Hey, Grandpa. I need some help…”

Todd explaining the night’s events would give her a few precious moments to escape before the “cleaning crew” the family had on speed dial arrived to mop up the murder scene. She had five minutes—tops. How the Pershings would explain away Brent’s disappearance was anyone’s guess, but this wasn’t the first time the family had gotten their hands dirty. Nor would it be the last.

Dragging in a breath, she stopped the recording and tried to steady her shaking limbs so she could get the hell out of here. If she didn’t… Madison shuddered at the possibilities. She doubted Todd would merely threaten pulling the funding for her father’s healthcare in his fragile condition to keep her mouth shut. More likely, he would end her, too, and the family would buy off the press to spin it as a tragic murder-suicide following a torrid affair. It wouldn’t matter that she’d always hated Brent.

Stifling her panic, Madison tiptoed down the hall and emerged into the living room.

“Three minutes?” Todd sounded unnervingly close, like a few steps and the turn of a corner, and they would be face-to-face.

There was no time for fear and no room for error. She had to get out—of this apartment, this building, this town—now.

She whirled and sprinted for the door, almost dizzy with relief when she grabbed the cold handle and tugged. The click sounded incredibly loud in the uneasy silence, but the door opened. She wrenched it wide, scrambling when it nearly hit the adjacent wall. With quick reflexes, she managed to stop it and was halfway out of the unit when she heard precisely what she dreaded.


She glanced back to find her husband shirtless and shoeless, his eyes full of rage. He still held the dripping knife.

“Stay away!” She dashed into the penthouse’s lobby, frantically pressing the call button for the elevator, praying the car would reach her before a homicidal Todd did.

Because he had this floor all to himself, there were no strangers to protect her or offer their aid. There would be no witnesses to tell the world what really happened. And after seeing her husband’s face, she knew he wouldn’t bother with threats. He would merely end her and let his grandfather’s people take care of the dirty details. She’d never get to say goodbye to her father, much less hold his hands through his upcoming treatments. She would never get to tell her girls back home—Haisley, Gracelyn, and Charlene—how much their lifelong friendships had meant to her. She would never see Matt Montgomery, the man she’d never stopped wanting, to ask why she hadn’t been enough for him. She would be dust.

No. Her life couldn’t come to that. She wouldn’t let it.

“Get back here!” Todd demanded from the foyer, hiding the blade behind the door. But she had no doubt he gripped it, ready and waiting.

The elevator still hadn’t come. Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god.

Panicked, she looked around for an escape route. To her left sat a door. She hadn’t noticed it earlier, and she had no idea where it led, but it was her only escape.

She backed away, horrified when he suddenly lunged and gave chase, the knife raised threateningly.

Madison didn’t stop. She bolted through the door and shoved it closed behind her before racing down the stairwell. Of course, she was alone. People not running for their lives took the elevator.

When she heard the door crash behind her, she squealed in terror, sprinting as fast as she could with every part of her on adrenaline overload.

In blind panic, she scampered down one flight, two, then three…aware of Todd gaining on her. Did this stairwell have cameras? Would anyone see her? But who was she kidding? If her husband offed her here, the surveillance equipment would either sadly “malfunction” or the video of her murder would mysteriously “disappear.” There would be no escape and no justice if she didn’t secure them herself.

“Stop running, bitch!” Todd growled about halfway down. “I won’t hurt you.”

She didn’t dare listen. “Liar! Go away!”

“No. You’ve been a thorn in my ass for two years.”

“I didn’t see anything,” she lied, even though her common sense told her that didn’t matter.

“You saw everything.” Like a man with renewed purpose, he ran faster.

Finally, she had the presence of mind to run out of her heels and leave them behind, dashing on bare feet toward the exit as fast as she could. In that moment, she thanked god that she’d always enjoyed a good run or a challenging spin class. Between that and her fight-or-flight instincts, she managed to race down the last three flights, putting distance between her and Todd, until she shoved open the next door with a cry, emerged into the marble-floored lobby, and skidded to a stop in the middle. The massive drum chandeliers overhead flooded the expansive space and seemingly shined a spotlight on her.

At her intrusion, heads turned. Discerning gazes swept over her from head to toe with a sniff of disdain. Then people looked away, whispering judgmentally to one another.

Madison didn’t care. She spun around to the stairwell door as it opened again. For a split second, Todd appeared in the frame, then saw other people whip toward the sound. He slinked back to the shadows, but not before she caught the warning on his face. She might be getting away now, but he was coming for her…

Wrenching her keys from her pocket, she fled through the grand lobby doors, careening around the side of the building and through the parking lot until she reached the swanky German car her husband had insisted she needed.

Madison would bet anything he could track it, along with her phone. Now she was on the clock, and she had to ditch every way Todd could possibly trace her—before he caught up with her and finished what he’d started.

When she reached the car, she flung herself in, locked every door, then skidded out of the lot, blending in with traffic. Tears poured down her face.

She couldn’t stop to unpack everything she’d witnessed and what that meant for her future. She had to get out of town and come up with a plan to stay safe. She didn’t have a moment to lose.

Within ten minutes, she found a big-box store. Inside, she bought two boxes of dark brown hair dye, a ball cap, cheap sunglasses, flip-flops, a cable to transfer files from her smartphone to a USB drive, and a burner phone. While she set up the new device, she offloaded a collection of precious pictures of her dad and her friends, along with the disturbing video of Brent Westbrook’s murder, onto the portable storage drive. Then she tossed the fancy phone onto the passenger seat, slipped on the sandals, gathered her purchases, flung her credit cards all over the parking lot, and used the last of her cash for a taxi to take her to the train station with a stop along the way at a pawn shop.

Inside the sleazy little store that would make a black light shudder, she hocked her wedding ring, blocking out the day Todd had slipped it on her finger and the girl who’d been stupidly hopeful about their tomorrows. That had been an illusion. Tonight, she was burning that girl from her mind forever.

Since the three-carat diamond was a family heirloom, Winston Pershing would, of course, find it. That meant Todd would, too. If they hadn’t already guessed, they would know she’d fled. But she would be long gone by then, god willing. The question was, how far away would she have to go to escape their corrupt clutches? And how would she keep her father safe?

Flush with cash from the pawn dealer, she hurtled back into the taxi and sent a one-line text to Sadie, the only person she considered a friend in DC, who had insisted she check in after seeing Todd.


Two seconds later, Madison’s new phone rang, and she answered without speaking.

“Is that you?” Sadie asked.


“What’s going on?”

Madison didn’t dare talk in the cab. In truth, she hated to drag her sweet, sassy friend into this mess. The fact her mother, Willa, was the Pershings’ long-time housekeeper only put them both in an awkward position. “I need my bag.”

Sadie gasped. “The go-bag you set aside last week so you could leave Pershing’s pompous ass?”


“About damn time. Where you at? I’ll bring it. But I’d sure love to smack him upside the face with it first.”

“I-I’m heading to Union Station, but we can’t meet there.”

Too many cameras. If she and Sadie connected in such a public place, the Pershing machine would find out Sadie had aided the enemy, and they would be merciless. Madison had to spare her friend their wrath.

“There’s a coffee shop down the street. It’s a dive, but they’ll be open,” Sadie suggested. “I’ll leave campus on my bike now and meet you in the ladies’ room. How far away are you?”

“Um…” Madison looked out the window, trying to push aside the night’s horror long enough to glean where she was. But she’d lived in Alexandria since marrying Todd. She wasn’t terribly familiar with downtown DC. “Ten minutes?”

“You’ll beat me there,” Sadie warned. “But I’ll hurry.”

“I’ll wait.”

“You sound rattled.”

Madison bit her lip and tried to stop shaking. “If something doesn’t feel right…”

“No one will follow me, girl. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m beneath their notice, and I keep it that way. But if I think I’m being followed, I’ll hit your new digits and bail.”

“Be safe,” Madison whispered, hoping she wasn’t making a grave mistake.

They rang off, and she stopped the cabbie in front of the coffee shop. As she exited, she shoved her artificial blonde hair under the ball cap, tied her designer coat around her waist, and looked down as she entered, heading straight for the restroom and locking the door to the one-holer with trembling fingers.

She flipped on the light and stared into the mirror. Madison almost didn’t recognize her chalky face and eyes that had aged a decade in a handful of hours.

While she waited for Sadie, she indulged her compulsive need to wash her hands. Her eyes stung. Her throat constricted. Guilt for not calling the police and not saving Brent’s life ate at her. Brent’s mother was a sweet Southern lady…married to a ruthless bastard of a consultant who did oppo research on political enemies in the swamp for exorbitant fees. Montrose Westbrook worshipped money and would likely accept a chunk of the Pershings’ boatload to sweep Brent’s murder under the rug. His wife, Genie, would weep for the loss of her only son.

Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door. Madison nearly jumped out of her skin and barely muffled her scream.

“Girl?” That voice belonged to Sadie.

Madison let out a sigh of relief and wrenched open the door to find her friend looking amazingly gorgeous—as usual—except for the concern on her face. “Thank you for coming.”

Sadie pushed her way inside, then locked up behind her, gray backpack in her grip. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but right after you called, Mama told me the family erupted in panic. The senator is pacing and furious as fuck. Todd’s daddy is frantically making phone calls. Predictably, Agatha is doing what a senator’s wife does—hobnobbing with the press she considers her ‘friends’ while giving Cynthia valium like it’s candy.”

So they knew what Todd had done and were already doing damage control, including keeping her mother-in-law, who was prone to hysterics, sedated.

“Where’s Todd?”

She shrugged. “Mama didn’t mention him at the house.”

That meant he was still out looking for her. “Anything else?”

“The family is asking about you, girl. All over town… They’re ‘worried’ they haven’t seen you in hours. You have to get out of here. Change clothes.” Sadie shoved the bag in her hand.

Madison tore into it, stripping off everything except her undergarments, then donning a pair of black jeans, a baggy black V-neck shirt, and some dark sneakers. She shoved her dirties in the bag. She’d dump them elsewhere later. “Better?”

Sadie shook her head, sending her waist-length braids bouncing around her. “I still think what I thought the first time we met. You’re too beautiful not to be noticed and too delicate for this life. What the hell happened?”

“I can’t involve you anymore. It’s dangerous.” And Sadie was a twenty-one-year-old honors student with her whole life ahead of her.

She asked. “It’s already dangerous. Give me something.”

On the one hand, Madison didn’t want to put Sadie in the Pershings’ crosshairs. On the other, if the family found her before she escaped town, Madison feared what they would do. They probably wouldn’t kill her—at least right away. But they would make her life hell because she’d proven more than once that she wouldn’t put the family’s reputation above her morals. Since then, they’d used every means possible to minimize her. How long before they silenced her altogether?

“I went to Todd’s ‘love shack’ to demand a divorce. I found him. I watched him kill Brent. I caught it on video.”

Sadie’s jaw dropped. Her dark eyes threatened to pop from her head. “Are you shitting me?”

“I wish I was. I especially wish Todd hadn’t seen me and chased me down a stairwell with a bloody knife, threatening to kill me, too.”


“I’d go to the police, but—”

“Don’t bother. The Pershings own tons of cops and every judge in town. You gotta run, girl.”

Exactly. “Where? I can’t hide forever.”

“Go where they can’t touch you.”

Madison scoffed. “Unfortunately, Mars is a little chilly this time of year.”

Sadie put her hands on her hips, her brown skin gleaming under the harsh lights of the bathroom. “I’m serious.”

“I am, too. There’s nowhere in the world their influence doesn’t reach.”

Sadie sighed. “Then go home.”

Madison gaped in return. “What the—”

“Not that fancy-schmancy condo Todd bought to be your gilded cage. Go to Louisiana.”

“That’s the first place they’ll look. And I don’t dare endanger Daddy.”

“He’s in a medical facility. He’ll be okay for now. But you gotta reach safety, and all those badasses you know—”

“Are now married and have children. I can’t put them in jeopardy.”

“Not all of them.” She raised a brow. “What about Matt?”

Madison rued the day she’d been lonely, imbibed too much wine, and spilled the deets about her weekend with the rugged cowboy. “As far as I know, he’s still single. But he didn’t want me then. He’s not going to want my trouble now.”

“Make it worth his while, girl. You two have unfinished business. If he’s not interested”—she shrugged—“he’s not. But I’m guessing he wouldn’t want you to die.”

Madison sighed. She didn’t want to gamble on Sadie being wrong…but she was out of options. “All right.”

“Good. Now go. I’ll miss you, girl.”

“I’ll miss you, too.” She gave Sadie a teary hug, fearing her life would never be the same again.

After a promise to stay in touch, Madison slipped out of the coffee shop. No one looked at her twice.

Nearly twenty-four sleepless hours later—after renting a cheap motel room long enough to dye her hair, using cash to purchase a last-minute train ticket to Atlanta, and then hopping a bus to Lafayette—she crept onto Matt’s property. Over the past two years, she’d stalked the heartbreaker on social media. He didn’t post often, but if he had moved, one of their mutual friends, probably Tessa Garrett or Laila Scott, would have mentioned it.

Finally, with her destination near, the Louisiana sky opened up and the hot summer rain poured down. She slinked toward Matt’s brightly lit porch, wondering if he was even home or out with someone beautiful and willing who wasn’t fighting for her life, when he suddenly appeared at the window, phone in one hand, beer in the other, staring into the night. He was bare from the waist up, and he looked more solid and powerful than ever. Her breath caught. Her heart flipped. A battalion of butterflies dive-bombed her stomach.

On trembling legs, she drifted to the window, getting a closer look at his rugged shoulders, hard chest, and the ribbed abs that disappeared into the waistband of his low-slung sweatpants.

God, she couldn’t even count how many times she’d touched herself and thought of him…

That isn’t why you’re here. Focus.

The time had come to ask for his help. The question was, would he protect her? Or would he merely break her heart again?