Book 4 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
Why do our secrets keep hurting us?
Why do our secrets keep coming back?
Why can’t our secrets just die?
Emersyn Sharpe was nothing like I expected and everything I could have ever dreamed of. She stayed and she changed everything. She put the guys in their place. She had fire and spunk, a ferociousness I wished I possessed.
Her darkness called to mine in a way that felt like home.
But hiding secrets is hard work and even the people who think they already know the worst, can’t be fully trusted. No matter how desperately you want it.
The truth may set you free, but the lies? They keep you bound so tight, you don’t even realize you’re trapped.
Milo coming home brought Liam back to us and Boo-boo fit right in. Everything was supposed to get better. So how did it get worse?
Why, why did she leave? Why couldn’t she have waited?
My name is Freddie Dunlap and I’m going to find her.
Book 4 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
I checked my watch for the fourth time in the last thirty minutes. Not only was Sharpe late, he was conspicuously late. When he said he was coming to Braxton Harbor for the meeting and arranged for it to be the Titian—the same hotel Hellspawn had stayed at during her show—it had set off alarm bells. From unreachable and leaving me to his staff, to arranging an in person meeting? Yeah, nothing sketchy as fuck about that.
It was why I wanted Hellspawn secure at the apartment. I’d rather she’d been at the clubhouse, but the guys had other issues that made it a less than optimal choice. Not pacing took effort, I’d gone the suit and tie route, playing up my O’Connell connection. Still, when we hit the forty-five-minute mark, I gave up any pretense and headed out.
The bike wasn’t parked in their lot. In fact, I’d stashed it half a block away for a reason. Everything about Sharpe set off internal warnings. I’d mentioned him, in passing, to Adam and all Reed had to say was stay as far away from him as possible. The guy was bad news.
Emersyn hadn’t tried to reach out to him at all as far as I knew. In fact, she’d done quite the opposite that day she’d gotten away. He’d been right there and she’d gone in the opposite direction. Between the telephone tag and his slow response times, I’d already decided to just play him for information and that was it.
But why call for a meeting at all? Much less one he didn’t plan to show—I plucked my phone from my pocket and hit the number for Hellspawn’s phone. It hadn’t even begun to ring when I caught the movement from the corner of my eye.
Too many years of back-alley fights and knives in the dark looking to take me out had honed my senses. Someone rushing at me, even in broad daylight, got my attention. My phone went flying as I caught the extended wrist and deflected the blade. Twisting the guy, I slammed him into his partner. My chest still ached from the three bullets that hit my Kevlar center mass, but I’d fought worse battles in far more damaged condition.
On any other day, maybe these guys would be an even match, but I wasn’t in the mood for this. I needed my phone and I needed to hear Hellspawn was fine. One guy I dropped with a broken arm, and the second I split open every knuckle on my left hand with the upper cut to his jaw.
What the fuck did he have in that thing? Titanium? Still, a swift kick to the head of the guy cradling his broken arm knocked him out, too. I didn’t have time for this shit, but I still removed their weapons, both had Glocks, fully-loaded and I field stripped the weapons down to parts, dropped them in different trash cans and tossed parts into the bushes on my way to grab my phone.
The fucking screen had shattered. But it worked. Still, the phone rang and rang and rang, then went to an automated voice mail.
“Pick up the fucking phone, Hellspawn.” She could be doing anything. Running on the treadmill. Dancing around in her underwear. Fucking one of the assholes on my sofa again. But she still didn’t answer the phone. At the bike, I stuck the key in and got it started as I tried to pull up the cameras.
They responded but I couldn’t make out shit. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and my blood ran cold. If I hauled ass, I was twenty minutes from my place.
That was twenty minutes too far. Just as I started the engine, my phone rang.
“Hellspawn,” I said as I answered it. “Why the fuck—”
“It’s not her,” Freddie interrupted me. “I don’t know where you are or what you did, but she’s leaving.”
His voice held a frantic note. “She called me. There’s no car here and just the stupid fucking rats we can’t leave to run around in here…” His words came out jumbled. “The guys are gone and she’s going home. That’s what she said.”
“Not to us, to the other place, the one I know she doesn’t want to go to. What the hell did you do?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
I ground my teeth together. “I’ll take care of it. Stay where you are.” Then I debated what I needed him to do. Freddie needed a task or he would derail and we couldn’t afford that right now.
Especially if they had him on rat duty, that must mean they were circling in on whoever was leaking the shipping schedules. “Call Rome.”
“Call Rome.” It would be better coming from me, but Rome could keep it to himself. “Tell him what you told me and then tell him I’m on my way to get her.”
“Okay—you’re going to get her, right?”
Hell yes, I was going to get her.
“But you don’t even know where…”
“I know where.”
There were only two airports locally that could handle private planes and if Sharpe was here, he’d pulled me out to get her. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but I was going to find out.
“Freddie, just do it,” I snapped. “Call Rome, tell him exactly what you told me. I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”
I shoved the phone in my pocket then pulled the helmet on. Two airports.
The one closest to my place was also closer to this hotel.
It was a gamble, but I went with my gut.
I hit the highway doing 100 and I pushed the bike harder. The engine was a scream as we angled our way between traffic. I closed on every single dark car. No doubt he would have sent a goon to get her, or maybe he picked her up himself.
She didn’t want to see him.
I couldn’t reconcile the disparate desire with the phone call to Freddie. Why Freddie? To let us know, but warn the one person least likely to stop her? She needed to learn when Freddie cared, Freddie didn’t stop.
None of us did. Still, it wasn’t until I closed the gap on the sixth car that I saw her. Even through my visor and the tinted windows of the car, I could make out the wide eyes and the taut expression on her face.
But the driver was a mule of a man. He swung the car at me twice trying to dislodge me, then he cut off at an exit.
Swearing, I took the very next one, but he’d bought himself time. The race to the airport had my heart hammering. The one thing I didn’t own was a private jet. So, I had no access to this part of the airport.
The car took her straight to a plane, but I was already off the bike and yelling for her. “Don’t get on that fucking plane, Hellspawn!” The engines on it were already primed and running.
Security cut me off. One guy ate my helmet and I pulled a night stick from another. For a split second, I swore she heard me. She glanced back.
No way in hell did she want to get on that plane. A taser caught me in the back. The shock jolted my system, and had me staggering. I struck out blindly. Fists. Feet. Nightstick. Them. Everything became a weapon, but it was just me and the big dude who’d been driving her when I got clear and the plane was taxiing down the runway.
I focused on the behemoth.
I only needed him alive.
Not in one piece.
* * *
The clean-up crew would be less than happy with me when I called them in. There was a lot of scrubbing that would need to be done. I’d already taken care of security at the airport. Private airfields had private owners. They also tended to not care for FAA rules or sharing their issues with local authorities.
Greasing those wheels cost a hundred grand. Easy money. The security guards cost a little more, but they understood the offer clearly. The owner would deal with them, or he’d deal with me. None of them wanted to deal with me. The behemoth hung from a hook in the old meat packing factory. This was one of those acquisitions I’d been “after” for the Royals for a while.
It also put this body squarely in the center of 19 Diamonds territory and gave me plausible deniability. I didn’t give one good goddamn about deniability, but my cleaners did. Whatever. As it was, I’d already put in calls to find out where Sharpe’s plane was going.
Of course, they hadn’t filed a fucking flight plan. The family had a dozen properties around the world in their name that didn’t count what they had in their corporate assets. I needed to go back to the apartment and check my cameras. My fucking phone was useless, but I had this guy right here and right now.
And he was going to answer my questions.
As soon as his dumb ass woke up. Blood dripped steadily from his nose. I’d enjoyed the savage beating I’d given him.
Maybe a little too much.
I wasn’t going to cry over spilt blood.
The slam of a door rang through the warehouse, echoing off the old metal fridges and abandoned equipment. I sent a security team through periodically to clear out any detritus or squatters.
Hand on my gun strapped behind my back, I faced the open door to the fridge I was using for this interrogation. I’d only told two people where I would be.
“I come in peace,” Freddie announced, scuffing his shoes against the dirty cement floors. “Mostly. Also—why the hell are we doing this in an old crack den?”
Relaxing my grip on the gun, I started forward and narrowly dodged the fist flying at my face as Jasper cut around the corner. I caught the next swing, and then delivered my own sharp jab before I shoved him away.
Barely stumbling a half-step, Jasper pivoted and faced me. Fists already clenched, he was already lunging at me.
“Guys!” Freddie called, before releasing a shrill whistle. The noise actually hurt with how it rebounded off the metal. “This is not about your dicks or your dickishness.”
The sober note was so un-Freddie-like, I almost glanced at him but I didn’t dare take my attention off Jasper. Not when the hate in his eyes had taken on a whole new dimension. His anger I could take, even the blame after I’d followed the plan and walked away from the Vandals.
No, this was him in a killing rage.
“I tried to get to her,” I told him. “I wasn’t fast enough.”
That was on me.
“But I’m not giving up and I will fucking find her and bring her back, if it’s the last thing I do.”
She did not want to go back to her family.
Eyes narrowing, Jasper glared at me. The ice in his slate gray eyes was so jagged they threatened to leave me bleeding. “What if she doesn’t want to come back?” He bit off every word like he fired bullets.
In a way, he was.
Because beneath all that anger was fear and pain.
I couldn’t fix it, not yet.
But he wasn’t alone. “Then she can fucking tell me she doesn’t want to come back here. If she doesn’t, fine, we’ll go there to be with her if that’s what she needs.”
We. Not just me.
Tension still straining at his muscles and in the flex of his jaw, Jasper straightened slowly. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything, but make sure she knew how to defend herself. The only way they got in, was she let them in. The only way she left was if she went willingly.”
“Then she wants to be gone.” The rawness in his voice was brutal. If Milo could fucking see this, he’d shut up about thinking anyone was using her as a whore. Fuck me, if he ever said anything like that again, I was gonna break his jaw until he remembered the manners we’d all been taught.
“No,” I said in the same breath as Freddie.
“She didn’t want to,” Freddie said, coming closer and still sounding so damn serious. That snagged Jasper’s attention. That pulled his focus away from me. “It was in her voice. She lied to me. She was so damn sad, but she didn’t want to go. They did something.“
Jasper’s expression tightened then he glanced at the man hanging from the hook. “This the guy?”
“The driver,” I answered, relaxing a fraction now that Jasper’s temper seemed to have been defused. Or at least had a new target. “He took her from my building straight to the airport.”
“Could be a nobody,” Freddie suggested, coming to stand between us.
“If he hadn’t been armed for bear, I’d agree.” I kept my tone mild, then motioned to his weapons, which lay across a table on the far side of the room. A pair of Glocks. Two six-inch plus long knives. A flip blade. A taser. Three sets of zip tie cuffs. His phone. The bullet proof vest.
I’d stripped him down to his pants. Even emptied his shoes.
“The car’s in the larger freezer on the other side.” It had a roll open door and I’d had one of my people stash it in there. If they had any kind of tracking system, the high-density lead and heavy metals in the old fridge would block it. At least until I could strip it down.
Then again, if this fucker had friends who wanted to give me something to vent on, I’d be happy to rip them up too.
“Kel and Vaughn are on the way,” Jasper said as he stripped off his own jacket, then his shirt. Why get everything bloody if you didn’t have to. “We were finishing a job or we’d have been back faster.”
The last came out in an almost apologetic tone as he glanced at Freddie. Finally, I studied the kid. Well, not really a kid anymore, but still younger than the rest of us. His eyes were shadowed and his expression bleak, but also determined.
“What did she say?” I asked him. “Exactly.”
He exhaled, but stared at the man hanging from the hook as Jasper moved around the empty fridge. He was either examining what I had to work with, or cooling himself down so he could get answers, instead of just beating the guy to death.
We needed the former, but the latter might help slake some of the rage pounding through my veins. Everything was off about this situation. Her expression when she’d seen me at the airport. Even from that far away, I’d seen the sadness.
But I’d also seen fear a moment before she squared her shoulders and the emotion vanished. Buried.
Just. Like. Milo.
She’d been hiding so fucking much from us and it had been right there in front of me.
“She said she had to go home. It was time. When I told her one of us would come get her, she said no, not to the clubhouse. To my real home.” His tone was dead neutral as he recited the conversation. No emotion at all. “I told her she didn’t want to do that. I know she didn’t. Then she said her mother was sick and her father had a heart attack.”
Both of those could be fact-checked. I reached for my phone but the shattered screen was no fucking help.
“I told her not to do it. I told her to stay there, and we’d talk and make a plan.” He compressed his lips. “She said, “Freddie. Stop. Thank you for wanting to do it, for making me laugh and for being you. But I have to do this. I need you to tell everyone this was my choice.” If he’d just slammed a blade into my chest it would have hurt less. “I said, ‘I don’t want you to go.’ She apologized then when I said I’d head straight there, she hung up—but only after she said, ‘Thank you for caring. I’ll call when I can.”
“She didn’t want to go. I don’t care that she said it was her choice.” Freddie finally pinned me with a look. “She didn’t want her family to find her.”
There had been far too many opportunities and instead of pressing this, we’d all just—held on and pretended it didn’t matter cause she was with us, where she belonged.
“You got this here?” I said abruptly, looking at Jasper. “Get whatever you can out of him. All the details. I’m going to the apartment. I need to know what happened there.”
“I’ll take care of him,” Jasper said, cracking his knuckles. “You tell me what you find.”
He nodded, then looked at Freddie. “Go get some buckets of water. We’re waking this fucker up.”
I left them to it. My bike was also in the warehouse. There were cracks and scratches from where I’d dropped it, but I ignored those. They were unimportant.
Getting to my apartment now and looking at the surveillance was important. It was the only thing that mattered. That and finding where her family was taking her.
Then get her back.
That was the plan.