Book 3 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
At the heart of it all was a secret and a lie.
A secret we didn’t tell her.
A lie we told ourselves.
Emersyn Sharpe is more than just the girl we watched over. She’s very much the woman who fits us.
The last thing we should have done was take her and the worst thing we did was keep her, but she needs us. I think, more than one of us—myself included—needs her.
The secret wasn’t ours to share and the lie?
I bought into the lie that keeping her was saving her. The lie that persuading her to trust us was needed. The lie that falling in love with her was as natural as breathing.
It didn’t matter if I wasn’t alone in falling into this trap. It mattered that when the trap closed, it put her on one side and us on the other.
Damn and we were so close too…
My name is Vaughn Westbrook and I’ll be damned if I give up now.
Book 3 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
“Are you high?” The question slipped out before I could swallow it back as I shot a look at Doc. “I don’t have a brother.” The soft, lazy good mood from the night before vanished. Dread infused anger iced in my system as I went hot and cold at once.
What the hell was going on?
“Dove,” Vaughn said quietly and I cut a look away from the pained look on Doc’s face to the measured look on Vaughn’s. There it was—in his topaz eyes—worry and sadness. His face, like Kellan’s, was also marked up. Neither of them were bleeding though, not like Jasper.
That didn’t mean they hadn’t been bleeding.
I jerked a look back at the bruiser in front of me. He was huge. Big, like they all were, but there seemed to be something so much more dangerous about him. Dark brown eyes locked on me and I shook my head.
“I don’t have a brother,” I repeated slowly. “Trust me, I would have known.” The only heir to the entire Sharpe fortune and empire made it a damn burden without the complicated relationships inside our family. Uncle Bradley reminded me constantly that I was a Sharpe. That no one else was good enough for me. The burn of bile scored the back of my throat and I shook my head. “So, I don’t care who you are, or who you think you are…”
“Swan,” Jasper said my name so softly, I almost didn’t hear it as his hand brushed my arm. By brushed, I mean barely skimmed.
Raptor let out a low sound that could have been a curse or a growl or maybe just a rumbling note. But the whole world sped up as he slapped Jasper’s hand away from me and tugged me to him. For as strong as his grip was, it was also gentle as hell, before he thrust me behind him and lunged toward Jasper again.
I sprang forward. Granted, the guy was twice my size, but I wasn’t gonna let Jasper fight him alone if no one else would help. I didn’t land on his back though. Rome caught me around the middle and pulled me back to him.
“Dammit,” I swore, but Rome carried me almost all the way to the kitchen. “We have to help him.”
“We are,” Rome promised against my ear even as Liam let out an aggravated sigh.
“You owe me, Hellspawn,” he muttered before he shot forward. It all happened so fast. Jasper was on the ground and Raptor loomed over him. Doc said something, maybe a name, then Liam was there, plowing into Raptor like a freight train. He didn’t slow down, didn’t sidestep but drove him forward to slam into a wall. He pinned the other man there, an arm to the back of Raptor’s neck and his arm wrenched up behind his back.
The whole room stilled. Only, this stillness held way more violence than the earlier quiet had. Rome tightened his arms around me, and rubbed his cheek to the top of my head. My heart raced and I dug my fingers into his arm, more to hold on than to try and get free.
Instead of yelling or fighting, Liam and Raptor seemed to join the rest of the frozen tableau. If not for the warmth of Rome and the softness of his breath, the idea I was in some nightmare all over again might have drowned me.
Finally, Liam took a step back and Raptor stayed against the wall. Whatever he’d done or said, all the fury seemed to drain out of him. With an almost agonizing slowness, Raptor turned around and faced me. Then he glanced from me to the guys and back.
Real regret seemed to settle in his expression before all traces of emotion vanished from it. “I’m sorry, Ivy—” He exhaled harshly, then raked a hand over his face. “Emersyn. I’m sorry Emersyn.”
I didn’t ask who Ivy was. Considering he thought I was his sister, it seemed a safe bet that was her name.
Liam withdrew until he was about halfway between where Rome and I stood and the rest of the room. Then he leaned against the wall there, like he had nothing better to do and no care in the world.
It was Doc who finally broke the impasse as he reached out to Jasper and helped him up. Jasper staggered a little and I would have gone forward, but Rome squeezed me. Lips against my ear, he murmured, “Not yet, Starling. Raptor can’t handle it. Hawk’s fine.”
How could he say he was fine, he was…
“They’ve done far worse to each other,” he continued, then nipped my ear. It was the barest scrape of teeth, but it sent a pulse through my system and made me shudder. Some of the adrenaline flashed away in the wake of the action.
“He needs to process?” I kept watch on the others, but turned my head to murmur at Rome. The act made him stop rubbing his face to my hair and put his nose near mine. It was oddly intimate and comforting.
A flash of a smile tipped the corners of his mouth. It was barely there and gone again. He answered with a nod then glanced back toward the others. I settled more into him. Trembling rioting through my system now that the threat seemed to have eased.
The rub of Rome’s hand along my biceps added to the soothing, but he surrounded me completely, a Rome-shaped blanket. Doc had Jasper up and Kellan moved over to help him. Freddie kept shooting me these apologetic, if worried, looks.
“I’ll be fine, Doc,” Jasper said abruptly. “I’ve bled before.” Even as he said that, he looked at me. The apology in his expression, it was mirrored on Vaughn’s and even on Kellan’s.
Raptor stared at the guys, then passed over them to focus on me. I swore another measure of regret flickered there and he glared upward for a moment. “Rome, take my sister…”
“Nowhere because your sister isn’t here and if you tell him to take me away so you can go back to being a gigantic asshole, I will scream, I will get away, and I will hit you with a brick if I have to.”
I mean, I knew where the gun was in the car. And I still had the knife, even if I hadn’t stabbed him with it. As if reading my mind, Rome plucked the damn thing out of my pocket.
“Traitor,” I murmured, and his soft chuckle did really inappropriate things to me, considering the situation.
“You don’t need to be here,” Raptor said as he took another couple of steps in our direction. Liam shifted his weight and I wasn’t the only one who tracked that motion. Raptor paused and his fixed look on Liam didn’t bode well. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Seemingly undisturbed, Liam shrugged. “Someone said something about donuts.” The dry comment earned an actual, sharp laugh from Freddie and a snort from Doc, who just shook his head.
“Milo,” Doc said. “Take a breath. This is a bit of a shock for everyone.” His emphasis on the last word had to mean me, but before I could counter that Raptor—or Milo—or whatever his name was just shook his head once, a hard negative.
“It’s no fucking surprise to these clowns, who had one job. Keep an eye on her, and keep their distance. How fucking hard was that?”
Kellan gripped Jasper’s shoulder. “I told you, events spun out of control, but more than that—she needed help.”
“Yes, you told me you had to get her out of a scrape,” Raptor answered, but the weight of that stare stayed with me. “That was months ago. Why is she still here?” The ice in my blood chilled. “Why haven’t you sent her back where she belongs?”
“Maybe because she makes her own damn decisions,” I snapped out and he raised both brows. “Stop talking about me like I’m not here. If you want me to leave, I’ll go…”
“Wait,” Jasper said as he pulled from the others and stood on his own.
“Sparrow,” Kellan murmured, and everything in his expression begged me to let him handle this, but it was Vaughn who surprised me.
“What the hell did you think we were gonna do, Milo? Pretend we didn’t see what that guy was doing to her? She was hurt. Badly. Bad enough we had to have Doc patch her up and she had a hell of a concussion.”
“Fuck,” Doc exhaled as Raptor’s gaze shot to him, all accusation and quiet rage.
“You didn’t fucking tell me she was hurt that bad.”
And I thought Jasper had anger issues, but where Jasper yelled, this guy was just…a single string vibrating so hard that it pulled the whole orchestra to follow him.
“Because she’s fine now and you were struggling enough.” Not an ounce of apology lived in Doc’s tone. “You gonna try and kick the shit out of me, now?”
Jasper blinked one good eye at him, he had a wad of tissue to the cut over his other eye, and he flicked a look to me.
The rage that seemed to live on Raptor’s surface vanished. If I hadn’t caught the deep breath he took or the way he glanced down before his shoulders straightened, I’d have missed it. But the action, every scrap of it, was as intimately familiar to me as my own name.
I did that when I needed to bury something. Compartmentalize. Put it away.
Just like that, Raptor’s anger erased as if it had never been there. I stiffened at the familiarity and Rome gave me another careful squeeze. Comfort wasn’t what I wanted right then. It wasn’t true.
This guy wasn’t my brother.
I didn’t have one…
“No, Mickey,” Raptor said slowly. “I owe you too much and you’re right. There’s probably a lot I don’t know.” He focused on me. “A lot I need to learn, but Emersyn doesn’t need to be here for this.”
“Maybe she doesn’t,” Doc said with a shrug. “But that’s up to her, don’t you think?”
They both looked at me and Liam straightened. Rome did, too. He wasn’t rubbing his cheek against my hair anymore and his hand on my arm stilled. But I could imagine his face. He didn’t step away from me, if anything, he rebalanced my weight and I stopped leaning on him so hard. If he needed to move, I didn’t want to get in his way.
“You know,” Freddie announced as he held up a chocolate covered donut. “I’m calling the fifteen minute rule, and I’m pretty sure we cleaned these floors this month. Besides, the donuts are great.” He took a big bite and announced around it. “But I saved the best ones for me and Boo-Boo.” He held up a box with triumph. “No donuts were harmed in the making of this drama.”
Kellan sighed and Vaughn stared upward, but I laughed. Even Jasper let out a sound that bordered on humor and when his chuckle cut across the tension in the room, I laughed harder.
Fuck me. This was probably the absolute worst time to get the giggles, but Freddie looked so damned pleased with himself, and I swore his eyes held their own version of a hopeful smile. He grinned wider as I giggled harder as he sailed down the hall to where I stood and he made a huge show of opening the box.
“Donut, Boo-Boo?” He took another bite of his own and made a soft moaning noise. I should have known danger was imminent the minute his eyes glittered with mischief. “I bet the only thing that tastes better is that pretty pussy, but I’ll settle for this sugar today.”
Rome snorted softly, it was almost the faintest suggestion of laughter. I met Freddie’s gaze as Raptor stalked forward. With a sigh, Rome moved me behind him and he joined Liam in blocking the other guy.
“Freddie,” I snapped.
“It’s fine, Boo-Boo,” he whispered, as he sidled over to me. “Get everyone pissed at me, they yell, they might smack me in the head, but then they get back to being them, and right now, all I want is to get high if they keep this shit up. The tension in here is fucking killing me.” Then he paused and held out his half-eaten donut for me to bite. “And if it comes down to it, I’m Team Boo-Boo.”
I groaned. “I don’t think this is helping,” I admitted as I took a piece of the donut he offered and tore it half.
“You’d be surprised,” he said, then nodded to where Kellan, Vaughn, and Jasper had fallen in around Raptor. The only one not quite standing with them was Doc. “The guys will figure this out, Boo-Boo. I promise.”
“You know how Freddie is,” Kellan said, and I swore he made it sound like the most reasonable thing in the world. “Just ignore him.”
“I’m supposed to ignore that you’ve all been shacking up with my sister? That you not only didn’t do the one thing I asked, you did absolutely the worst thing possible and brought her here?” The bite in Raptor’s voice wasn’t directed at me but it held some of the same acidity as Kellan’s had when he said I didn’t belong here.
Maybe I hadn’t in the beginning. Hell, I hadn’t even wanted to be here.
“Has it occurred to any of you that there’s a nationwide search going on for her right now?” Raptor demanded. “Her family wants her back.”
“Let’s talk about this later,” Kellan said. “After we smooth things over.”
“Man, I love your optimism,” Liam said. “I’ve fucking missed that.”
“Why the fuck are you still here anyway?” Jasper demanded. “Don’t you have some snooty boys to go hang with now?”
“You’re welcome for saving your ass from a beating,” Liam said easily. “And I’m here because I know how to answer my phone.”
“Enough,” Doc said. “You’re all acting like you’re twelve. Stop it. Everyone here is an adult, in theory, so let’s let all the adults make decisions for themselves.”
“Fine,” Raptor said abruptly. “Liam had nothing to do with this… take Emersyn to your place for now. It’s secure, right?”
What the hell?
“He’s not my brother,” I repeated, softly. At Freddie’s sad look, I frowned. “Right?”
“Boo-Boo,” he told me, sliding an arm around my shoulders. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
So they all thought this guy was my brother?
Over Raptor’s shoulder, I locked eyes with Jasper. Well, I focused on his one visible eye at the moment. The last thing in the world I wanted to see on his face and in his eyes clawed at me.