Book 2 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
My name is Emersyn Sharpe. Until a few months ago, I was the lead performer for a traveling show finishing up a contract. I had been beaten, but never broken.
Then they took me.
I didn’t belong in their world.
Still, they took me and I didn’t know why. They promised to protect me and to keep me safe, but they had to know I’d run. They had to know.
Now my world and theirs might be on a collision course and as much as I didn’t belong in their world, I didn’t want mine to rain down on them.
Not on Jasper, the dictatorial jerk who kissed like he wanted to own me. Not on Rome, the tortured artist who protected me. Not on Kestrel, the liar with the soulful eyes and dedicated heart. Not on Liam, the bastard who loved his brother. Not on Vaughn, the beautiful man with the beautiful voice who made me want everything I shouldn’t. Not on Doc, the gifted physician who’d kept his promises to me.
But I didn’t get far and now…now I don’t know what will happen next.
Book 2 in the 82nd Street Vandals Series
Nightmares came to life with the press of a hand over my mouth and nose. The scents of something like turpentine, oil, and soap threatened to suffocate me. The band of arms were so tight, I almost forgot how to breathe. Fear coiled around, its venom a paralytic in my system as I was all but rushed into a shadowy spot between two buildings. Off the street. Away from people. In the darkness… No. As the sunshine slipped from view and the shadows crowded in to blind me, I fought.
But I fought.
I wasn’t going to let him take me.
I hadn’t come this far…
I bit down into the meaty part of the hand over my mouth and kicked my feet back at the person holding me. I missed with the first swing, but the second slammed into a knee.
“Fuck.” The heated curse exploded against my ear. “Goddammit, princess.”
Bile burned in my throat, and I fought to get my teeth into his hand again. I didn’t want any part of him touching me, much less his flesh. The moment I found purchase, I gritted down and he yanked his hand away. Cold air slapped my face, and I curled my hands up to dig my nails into his forearm. I didn’t remember him being this strong, but I didn’t care.
“Fuck me. Stop, princess.”
I slammed my head back into his face, and spots flickered in front of my eyes. There were windows above us. And I thought I could see flour dust rising somewhere. Maybe a bakery. The trash in the alley smelled too. All of it raced at me, like sensory overload. The arms crushing me released abruptly.
The pounding of feet against concrete, even as I stumbled forward, had me twisting. My assailant turned away to look back the way we’d come, and a blur of motion caught him right in the chest and threw him to the ground.
Like a reel played in slow motion, the pair of men grappled as they rolled, and then as suddenly as the fight started, it ended with one man pinning the other with his legs while he held his arm in a lock. That man—Doc—stared up at me. “You okay, Little Bit?”
Fear ballooned in my gut, and I blew out a ragged breath before my gaze fell to the blond in the brutal hold.
It wasn’t my uncle.
It was Liam.
Relief swam through me, and I staggered away, barely catching myself on the side of a dumpster before what little food I’d eaten that day came up. The sour taste burned my throat, and my eyes sparked tears. I couldn’t suck in a breath for the retching hurling out of me.
The shakes hit next and I didn’t have time for this, but it was like every part of the panic unfurled in my system and left me a trembling, sniveling mess.
“Easy, Little Bit.” The warmth of Doc’s voice penetrated the shell around me a moment before a heavy hand settled on my back. “Easy, I’ve got you.”
“What the fuck, Doc?” Liam demanded. Their conversation came from a million miles away. “You tried to break my goddamn arm.”
“Why the hell were you dragging her off the street?” The growl in Doc’s words reverberated over me, but I couldn’t make myself focus on it, not when I was trying to remember how to breathe.
My uncle’s face flooded my mind’s eye, and I squeezed my eyes shut to try and blot out the image. Music. Dance. The Vandals.
Anything but my uncle.
“’Cause she took off on Rome’s watch. You think Jasper’s gonna get over that shit? No. So I came to see what the fuck she was doing, and don’t think I didn’t see her hook up with you.”
“You didn’t see shit,” Doc snarled back, and I closed my eyes as the heaving finally eased and wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand. But before I could even connect, Doc pressed a napkin into my hand as he helped me ease upright. I stared at him, then over at Liam, then back again. “You with us, Little Bit?”
“What the fuck is wrong with the little hellspawn?”
It wasn’t a very friendly sound. If anything, it sounded a lot like crying.
“Ignore the prick, Emersyn.” Doc touched my cheek lightly. “How fucking hard did you grip her?”
“She was fighting,” Liam said with a scowl and crossed his arms. “Why don’t you ask if she’s had her shots since she bit me.”
I cut a look over at him. “You followed me.” The words sounded so normal, and yet everything inside me still shook. “Why?”
“Why?” he parroted, cocking his head to the side and staring at me before glancing over his shoulder back at the street. “How about we get the hell back to the clubhouse with her before the guys realize she left?” That wasn’t directed at me.
“She wanted out,” Doc said, curling his arm around me. I shouldn’t lean into him. In fact, the best thing to do was walk out of this alley and keep walking.
“I don’t care.” The disdain in Liam’s voice made me frown. “Jasper will put another hole in Rome if he thinks he let her go.”
“He can’t do anything about her escaping,” Doc said patiently, like it was the most rational thing in the world. “The obligation of the prisoner is to escape.”
“Let me repeat,” Liam said, arms falling to his side as he took a step toward us. A shadow of a bruise formed on his cheek, and there were scrapes on his neck, plus more bruises on his knuckles. “I. Don’t. Care. They want her there, Rome was left to look after her, she’s going back… She already got him stabbed once. I’m not letting it happen a second time.”
“Wait.” Finding my voice shouldn’t be this hard. I pushed away from Doc and forced myself to stand on my own two feet. The problem was, I wanted to curl up against him and hide there. Doc felt safe. Safety was always a lie. “What do you mean I got him stabbed?”
The three guys who came at us when we’d been at the park. Correction, the three guys had come at me. I’d trusted Rome had my back and he had.
I took a step toward Liam. The dismissive coolness in his eyes cut at me. “He was hurt.”
I didn’t even realize I’d moved until my fist cracked against the side of his nose. The faintest sound of crunching bone made me wince. So did the spray of blood.
“You cunt,” he snapped as he put a hand up to his face. Lucky for me, he didn’t hit back, but Doc was already hauling me backward and putting himself between us.
“Watch your mouth,” Doc chastised him.
“I don’t care if he calls me cunt,” I said. “I told you, don’t call me princess. You do it again, and it’ll be your balls I smash.”
I was no princess. The word even tasted filthy in my mouth.
“Noted, Hellspawn.” He spit out blood, then touched his nose carefully before glaring at me. “Hellspawn fits better anyway.”
I’d take it.
Doc glanced at me again. “Look, let’s get you out of here and back to the hotel.”
“No,” I said and shook my head. “Not the hotel.” Not after seeing him there. I should have known he’d make it there. As long as I’d been with the company, I’d had some safety. Even enduring Eric, I could survive that. But the company had moved on and now he was looking for me.
They’d haul me home.
Probably commit me.
Worse, they’d lock me up in that mausoleum and he’d come to check on me daily.
The bile burned the back of my throat again, and I choked back the urge to vomit. Somehow, I went from standing to sitting in that nasty alley, the cold air perfumed with bits of trash and exhaust while Doc massaged the back of my neck as I tucked my head down between my knees.
“She’s crazy,” Liam murmured.
“She’s traumatized, you overbearing little shit. Stop freaking out about your brother for thirty seconds and look at this girl. She hasn’t done a damn thing to any of you, and yet you’re treating her like she’s a damn possession.” The ferociousness in Doc’s voice had me lifting my head again.
He’d gone toe-to-toe with Jasper and hadn’t flinched when Jasper pulled a gun on him. Right now, he glared at Liam like he was ready to tackle him too. It took me a moment to register that a trickle of blood escaped the corner of his mouth.
Liam rolled his eyes and threw his hands up as he half stomped away, and I reached up to try and dab the blood on Doc’s face.
“I’m fine, Little Bit. Trust me, a cut like that isn’t going to hurt me.” He stood and pulled me up to my feet with him. “Can you focus on me a second?”
I stared into his eyes, and a part of me wanted to cry. When I’d kissed him in the truck, there’d been some real regret in me. I hadn’t wanted to say goodbye, and at the same time, I hadn’t wanted to leave him without some acknowledgement that he’d come through for me.
“You’re in shock.” He said it almost too softly. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing,” I said slowly. “I just—” I had no idea what to do.
“You won’t go to the hotel?” It was a question.
I shook my head.
“I’m guessing you don’t want to go with Liam.” It wasn’t a question. Rome’s twin glared at me, but it wasn’t hate in his eyes.
He was worried about his brother.
“I—I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I need to think.”
That wasn’t really an answer. But I needed to go somewhere. Right? I’d just managed to escape. I couldn’t go back.
I rubbed a hand over my face and winced. My mouth hurt. So did my head. My nails had bits of blood under them. “Will Jasper really hurt Rome?”
“Fuck, I don’t know,” Liam said, shocking me. There was a puffiness to his nose, and blood still decorated his face as he drew closer to us. “If he could pin it on me and shoot me, he’d probably leave Rome alone. But they’re turning the city upside down looking for fucking Freddie, and all he wanted was for Rome to make sure you were safe.”
My heart clenched.
“They haven’t found him yet?”
Liam stared at me, eyebrows up. “I have no clue. I’ve been following you for the last couple of hours. Then your boyfriend.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Doc ground out. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“Hey, Doc, just calling it like I see it. I saw her kissing you before she got out of the truck, and you sure pulled up conveniently when she was out there walking.”
“Wait,” I said, waving aside the posturing bullshit. “You followed me? I didn’t see you.”
“You weren’t supposed to.” Liam smirked.
“I walked for a long time and you just let me go?” Suspicion curved through me. That sounded remarkably convenient. “I thought you were worried about your brother.”
“Yeah,” Doc murmured. “If you were that interested in protecting Rome, why let her get that far at all?”
“I just wanted to see where you were going,” Liam said.
“And?” Because there was more to this.
He leaned over and spat blood onto the pavement. “And I debated just letting you go. Fine? Is that what you want to hear, Pr—Hellspawn?”
The fact he edited himself went a long way for me. “Why did you change your mind?”
“Fuck if I know.” Liam glared at me, then at Doc. “You know what? This shit is not worth it. My nose fucking hurts—nice hit, by the way.” He said that to me as almost an aside. “You ever want to work on that southpaw, you let me know. You take her back, and I’m getting out of here. This side of town gives me hives.”
“Hey, Mockingbird,” Doc said before Liam even made it halfway down the alley. “You’re trying too hard.”
The other man flipped him off, and then he was gone.
Leaving me alone with Doc.
“Where do you want to go, Emersyn?” I should have expected the question. I had expected the question. The problem was I didn’t have any kind of answer.
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” I admitted after a long time. There was one person I could call. Maybe. Well, no maybe. But I still wasn’t sure I should involve her.
Doc sighed and tilted his head back to stare at the sky.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll figure this out.” Bit by bit, the trembling abated, and I stopped chasing my own mental tail. I needed a plan. Understanding the need for one was the first step.
Making one would be the second step.
I went to touch his arm, then curled my fingers against my palm. Doc had done more than enough. Now he’d even gotten into another fight for me. “Thanks, Mickey.”
He let me get three steps away before he said, “Where are you going, Little Bit?”
“You don’t have to worry,” I said over my shoulder. “I’ll figure it out.”
His sigh followed me another three steps. On the fourth one, he was quiet. By the fifth one, I was sure he’d let me go. Yet, it didn’t surprise me to find him standing next to me when I reached the next street.
When he held out his hand to me, I stared at it for a long moment. Taking it meant going back. At least with Doc. Taking it meant trusting him.
Taking it meant taking a risk.
“It’s cold out here, Little Bit,” he said. “Let’s at least get something warmer in you again, and we’ll take some time for you to make your decision.”
“Jasper won’t like it.”
“I don’t care.” His words practically echoed Liam’s, and a small smile escaped me. “Let me help you.”
“You already have.”
“Fine,” he said with an impatient sigh. “Let me help you more.”
I blew out a breath. “I have nothing to pay you back with right now…” And honestly, I had no idea what I was getting him into if he was in the middle of all of this. He wasn’t a Vandal, right?
“Tell you what, you let me worry about me while I worry about you. Then you can focus on what you want to do next, but in the meanwhile, I got your back.”
Sometimes, you have to fall before you fly…
And every flight required a leap of faith.
When he held out his hand this time, I took it.