Book 9 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
I’ve worn a lot of labels over the years. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to escape. I hid in my dance. I ran away from my life as much as I could. I fought to be somewhere else, even if I couldn’t be someone else.
One night, after my partner lashed out at me and I’d been hurt, the Vandals took me and never looked back. They introduced me to a world I had no idea existed and a family so much greater than the one I’d been trying to survive.
I gave myself up once to protect them.
I’ve fought for them.
I’ve bled for them.
I’ve killed for them.
And I’d do it all again if it keeps them safe.
My name is Emersyn Sharpe. I was born Ivy Hardigan. When the Vandals kidnapped me, I had no idea how life-changing it would be or how I would find real love. More, I found my place in this world. To have the future I want, I will finally wage war on the past.
FIERCE DANCER is a full-length mature dark, new adult romance with enemies-to-lovers/love-hate themes. The dark romance aspects of this tale continue. Please be aware some situations may be uncomfortable for readers. Trigger warnings can be found in the foreword should you require them. This is a why choose novel, meaning the main character has more than one love interest. This is book nine and the final in the series.
Book 9 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Ivy,” Milo said as we left the warehouse behind. Multiple cars, all identical, pulled out at the same time. I was curled up on the floor of the passenger seat where no one could see me.
“You know,” I said, almost idly. “Every time someone says something like that—it’s probably something that’s gonna piss me off, and that’s not the wrong way, even if you’re not intending to piss me off.”
He chuckled. “You have a point. How about this—I’m really impressed with your choice.”
“Better.” A real grin pulled at my lips as I peeked up at him. It was funny, he seemed so damned dark and scary when I first met him.
Everything from his rough appearance, to his fierce expressions, to the vicious growl in his voice—he scared and infuriated me. The bossy side of his nature was downright annoying. But he was my brother, and the more I got to know him, the more I understood what he needed from me.
“Anyway,” I said. “What did I do that impressed you?” From this angle, all I could see was him as he drove. His gaze was constantly on a swivel, flicking to the rearview mirror, the side mirrors, then back.
The plan was a shell game. Splitting up wasn’t ideal. None of us liked it, but we also needed to get out from the under-the-thumbs of our watchers. Understanding what was required didn’t make it something I liked, however.
“You let them send you with me,” he said. “Rather than insisting on staying there to back them.” He raised four fingers from the hand he had on the steering wheel. “Not that I don’t think you’re tough. You’ve demonstrated how fierce you are from the beginning, whether I was ready to see it or not.”
I didn’t laugh.
“Although you have not exactly made it easy to protect you, and Kel has been your staunchest supporter in this.” It almost sounded like he was grumbling. “So, not sure how he convinced you…”
Now I laughed. “He asked me,” I told him. Which was true, Kellan did ask me. And since they were so devoted to my protection, at least two of them were always with me, which could slow them down or lead to other risks.
That, and they wanted Milo out of there. Sending him with me protected him too. If I didn’t go, Milo wouldn’t.
“Just like that, huh?”
“Well, I could say he has a talented tongue and persuaded me that way—”
“Nope,” Milo said with a laugh, shaking his head. “Don’t go there.”
“Awww.” I grinned, as he wagged a finger at me. “Asking you was enough of an answer.”
“Fine,” I huffed like it was a real chore, even though it was hard not to laugh. “Why did you decide to come with me?”
He spared me a brief look that said it was a stupid question, but I didn’t back off.
“Did he ask you too?”
That earned me a genuine bark of laughter. “Yes, Ivy, he asked—but it wasn’t if I would go with you. He asked if I would be comfortable getting you out of town with Doc’s people. Doc trusts them. And I’ve gotten to know them some since they’ve been here.”
“Except you don’t know them.” I didn’t even have to guess how that went.
“No, and I debated sending Freddie with you,” he admitted.
“But you didn’t.”
“Nope. Because I want to be the one who looks after you—and the guys don’t need to worry about me flying off the handle. Even if Kel used looking after me to talk you into coming.”
“Is that what he did? Huh.” I made a show of rubbing my chin. “Sounds sketchy.”
He laughed. “You know what…?”
“Are you going to tell me?”
“Actually, I am. I think you’re good for them, and while this life wouldn’t have been my first choice for you…you do fit really, really well.”
Pride fisted in my chest at the declaration.
“It’s also not my choice,” he said. “And I trust you to know what’s good for you.”
“We’re going to need a hug after this.”
He laughed. “Bite me.”
I grinned. Even folded up in the well, it wasn’t all that uncomfortable. It was almost an hour after we left the warehouse that he pulled into a parking garage on the far side of the city and drove upward. Three levels.
“Stay put,” he said before he got out. He circled the vehicle and opened my side, where he pulled out the bags and then let me slip out with him. “Hoodie up.”
I’d gotten one of Vaughn’s hoodies to wrap up in before we left. It smelled like him, and it did wonders for my nerves. Being with Milo helped, but I missed the guys from the moment I’d said goodbye to them.
I tugged the hood up and made sure it was zipped before Milo jerked his head to the left. “We’re going down two flights. Stay on my left.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” I teased, even if I fell into step right where he wanted me. He just shook his head as we took the stairs down. We didn’t pass anyone coming up. On the first level, he headed right for a Mercedes.
It was a lovely dark sedan with dark windows. It reminded me of some of the private cars hired to run me around.
“Front seat or back seat?” Because we had two more car switches to do.
“Backseat,” he said, opening the door for me and setting one of the bags on the seat, and sliding a couple of pillows onto the floor. “Next car, you can ride up front.”
“It’s all good.” Once inside, it was a lot more comfortable lying down in here. “I would offer to drive, but I still don’t have a license.”
Milo glanced over the seat as he started the car and eyed me. “Soon as this is done, we’re going to get that.”
I grinned. “I’d like it. Kel’s been teaching me. I’m not half bad.”
“I believe you,” he said. “You’re also not one to brag about yourself, so if you say you’re not half bad, and Kel lets you drive his car, I think it’s safe to say you’d pass the test.”
A silly grin curved my lips as I settled back against the pillow. I was braced and ready for the movement when he began backing out.
It didn’t take any time to drive out of the garage. Traffic was a little snarly, but then we were on the highway.
“You want me to turn on some music?” His question pulled another smile to my lips.
“I’m good,” I said. “But I would like to talk, if you’re up for it.”
There was a beat of silence. “This feels like a trap.” He cut a look down at me before looking back at the road. “Definitely sounds like a trap. But what the hell. Hit me, Ivy.”
I cracked up. The fact I could see his grin only encouraged my laughter. He didn’t tease me more, just waited as I chortled.
Wiping my eyes, I tried to catch my breath. “Right… so… Lainey.”
His slow exhale wasn’t a promising sign, yet I still pressed onwards. He said to ask him, so I was going to ask him.
“Are you two still seeing each other?” There were just a whole host of ways to ask the question. Lainey hadn’t discussed much about Milo, other than to protest some of his caveman tendencies. I didn’t press her on those because I didn’t want to know as much. At the same time… “I know she’s been back east for a while, but…you guys seemed to have a connection.”
The silence extended for so long that I thought he might have changed his mind. Blowing out a long sigh, he finally shook his head. “I don’t know, Ivy. I don’t know what Mayhem and I are right now.”
Okay, that was better than saying they were nothing or anything like that. “How did you guys leave it?”
“She hasn’t told you?”
“Hmm, no.” I considered how I could answer that question. Sometimes the truth was just easier all the way around. “We don’t discuss you—other than you’re my brother, and I’m getting to know you. Also, she thinks you’re stubborn. But—everything else is personal. Not going to lie, if Lainey needed to talk to me, I would absolutely listen. At the same time, I want to know as much about your sex life as you do mine.”
That earned me a sharp bark of laughter and he shook his head. “That presupposes there’s a sex life to discuss.”
“Well—pretty sure her sleepovers with you weren’t platonic.” Or she wouldn’t have had hickeys.
His groan amused me, and I laughed.
“Right, well, it doesn’t change my answer. She has her life and her world—this is mine. Not sure where it all fits together.”
“That world was my world too—and while Lainey’s got a protective grandfather, she’s not helpless, you know.”
“Doesn’t mean I should expect her to give it all up for me, you know?”
Okay, I could work with that. “Do you want her to give it all up and move here?” While I would love to have Lainey closer, she would never leave Andrea. Not while she was still young. Her grandfather was a tough old man, but she wouldn’t leave him to wage war with her mother either.
“I just said I can’t ask her.” He raked a hand through his hair, the grim expression on his face tugging at my heart. I almost hated pushing him.
“That’s not what I asked,” I said softly. “Do you want to ask her?”
“You can tell me to shut up and mind my own business,” I offered. “Although I don’t like to see either of you hurting, and if you’re convinced that she’s better off in her world, I’d remind you that you thought the same thing about me.”
A muscle ticked in his cheek. I could almost imagine the gritting of his teeth. “I don’t want her world to be like yours was…”
“I know you don’t. Just like I know you didn’t know. Only that’s the thing, making decisions about what is best for someone else without involving them is just a bad idea all around.”
“Maybe…I don’t want to have to ask,” he said slowly. “’Cause I don’t know if I’m ready for there to be more.”
“That’s fair.” I folded my hands together over my stomach. “If you’d asked me a year ago if I would be in a relationship like this, I would have laughed. It would seem ridiculous. How could I be with two guys? Now, I’m with seven.”
That was a weird thing to say out loud.
“I never thought of myself as relationship material,” I continued. “I’m broken—in so many ways. Broken isn’t bad, I know that. Rome reminds me—Liam reminds me—all of you remind me. While broken may not be bad, it sure as hell isn’t easy either.”
“No,” he said slowly. “It’s not. I wish I could do or say something that would magically fix all this.”
I smiled. “I know, I feel the same way. But—I wasn’t telling you that to make you feel bad. I wanted to tell you that because relationships are hard. They’re even harder when you don’t believe in yourself. Maybe Lainey doesn’t want a relationship… and maybe she does. However, if you shut her out and don’t at least give her a chance to answer that question, you may be cutting yourself off from the relationship the two of you could have too.”
Hopefully, I didn’t go too far. Milo glanced over his shoulder and down at me.
“I’ll think about it.”
I grinned. “Thank you.”
“I was right, ya know.”
“It was a trap.”
I burst out laughing. Despite his mock eye roll, he was also grinning.
“You know,” I said. “You’re not half-bad at this brother business. Clearly, you’re better at being a sibling than I am…”
He snorted. “You’re getting there just fine, Ivy. You have being little sister down to an art.”
That pleased me immensely. “Does that mean we can play road trip games?”
His answering groan was downright delightful. “Does that mean twenty questions?”
“Well, it could… or I Spy, or you know… license plate games. Though I don’t really know a lot of those.”
“How about you tell me about learning to fly?” The question surprised me. “I know part of it was escaping your life there, but that can’t be the only reason you learned or how you became so damn good at it.”
I nibbled on the edge of a nail. “Do you truly want to know?”
“Yes, Ivy. I want to know—but only if you want to tell me.”
That settled the internal debate all at once. “Well, I love to dance. I couldn’t even tell you when my first dance lesson was, but I’ve always danced, and I love it—everything about it. More, I loved how it made me feel…”