Mastered eBook: Page2

Maya Banks (2015)

Drake nodded. “Report back to me as soon as you’ve spoken to him and let me know the situation. He owes me a lot of money. You can also tell him that if he doesn’t pay up, the least of his worries will be Vanucci because I’ll come after him myself and I’ll make whatever Vanucci will do to him look like child’s play.”

“Consider it done,” Silas said, even as he turned and disappeared into the far corner where the darkness concealed another exit from the office.

Drake clenched his jaw. Just another day at the office, only the desperate woman throwing herself at him pissed him off more than Garner defaulting on past-due payments. If he wanted a woman, he never had to look far. He damn sure didn’t need some bitch clinging to him like a burr, expecting him to fall all over himself to take what she so vulgarly offered.

Women didn’t call the shots with him. Ever. If he saw something he wanted, he took it. He was in control. Always. No exceptions. Not a woman. Not anyone. And he planned to keep it that way.

• • •

Evangeline stepped hesitantly from the cab after paying the fare—money given to her by her girls with a look in their eyes that said Don’t even think about refusing—and for a moment she stood there like an idiot, nervously surveying the line that extended down the sidewalk and wrapped around the block.

Then realizing how conspicuous—and out of place—she looked standing there gawking like a moron, she started toward the entryway, where a burly, scary-looking bouncer stood in front of a roped-off area that led to the inside, his huge arms crossed over an even huger chest.

She swallowed nervously as he caught sight of her and obviously saw her intention to walk in. His gaze narrowed and flitted up and down her, his lips thinning. Her back went up, as did her chin. She’d had enough of feeling unworthy and she’d be damned if she was judged and found lacking by a freaking bouncer.

A glance down the sidewalk told her why he was looking at her like she was nuts. Beautiful people stood, waiting for their opportunity to get in. Glitzy, glamorous. Women in expensive dresses, heels, jewelry draped from head to toe, hair that probably cost a fortune to have made up at the stylist. And then there were the men. Polished. Preppy. Rich looking. Some alone, no doubt using Impulse as hunting ground for a pickup and an easy lay. Others were there with their date for the evening, an arm wrapped securely around a gorgeous woman.

She was so jealous that for a moment she couldn’t breathe. What it must be like to be one of those beautiful people. To be able to take their looks and bodies for granted. To be able to get any man they wanted with a snap of their fingers.

She noticed that she’d caught the attention of those at the front of the line. Women openly sneered at her, mocking glances thrown her way as if to tell her, As if you’ll get in.

She turned her attention back to the bouncer, who was now just a body space away, and he stepped forward, speaking before she could say or do anything.

“Quota has been filled tonight,” he said simply. “Sorry, but you’ll have to go elsewhere. Or home,” he added after another sweep of her body.

Her cheeks scorched hot at the judgment in his gaze. He hadn’t even told her that the line formed at the rear. He hadn’t even told her she’d have to wait. He’d dismissed her. Told her she was unwelcome in a place like Impulse, and that just pissed her off.

So she pulled out her trump card, snapping it angrily in front of his face, holding the VIP pass so it was impossible for him not to see.

“I don’t think so,” she hissed between her teeth.

He looked surprised. And then uneasy. Hesitant even. And this was not a man she’d think was ever indecisive. Then she realized he was actually debating refusing her access even though she had the “golden ticket.” A coveted VIP pass that allowed its owner to enter, no questions asked. He would know that someone important in the club had given it to her. He didn’t have to know it hadn’t been given directly to her. No one in their right mind ever gave away a VIP pass to this club, so his only logical conclusion was that it had been given to her personally and she wasn’t about to correct his assumption.

Still, he didn’t look happy at all as he reached down to unlatch the velvet rope that was strung between two metal poles just outside the doorway to the club.

“Have a good time, miss,” he said formally, as he motioned her by.

She glanced at the line from the corner of her eye, drawing smug satisfaction as she saw more than a few mouths drop open. Some expressions were openly outraged. She even heard someone protest that she had gotten in while they were still standing out on the sidewalk waiting.

“VIP pass,” the bouncer rumbled, by way of explanation.

Yep, that pretty much said it all. VIP meant an all-access ticket to everything in the club. Steph had been there before and had brought her up to speed on the club, the layout, so she wouldn’t make a complete fool of herself by not knowing what the hell she was doing once inside.

Though Steph had told her about the front bar area, she was still surprised by how pleasantly quiet it was when she made her way into the lavishly decorated social area that was sectioned off from the dance floor and the huge bar in the center of the dance floor.

It was a genius idea to have a quieter area with a bar so people could actually talk and hear one another instead of yelling over the music. It would also give her time to have a drink in a quiet area so she could work up her courage to venture onto the dance floor.

Steph had explained that the dance floor was like a stadium with the bar in the center and the dance floor surrounding it on all sides. Then beyond the dance floor were the public places to sit. These were unenclosed areas with tables and chairs to rest after dancing and have a drink, although conversation was pretty much out.

Above the public seating were the private boxes. These were enclosed rooms with a waiter or waitress assigned to each, and music could be heard or not heard with the flip of a switch. They were larger and more comfortable sitting areas than the public seating below with couches, plush armchairs and a large table for setting drinks and food on.

The only thing it lacked, Evangeline had dryly remarked on, was a bed for people hooking up to have sex. She’d shut up quickly when Steph had seriously informed her that there were even more private rooms at the top of the club, access strictly monitored, which meant you had to be pretty damn important—or rich—to get in, and they were equipped with all the necessary comforts for couples to do as they wanted.

How Steph knew all this, Evangeline didn’t know, and she hadn’t asked, though she’d seen Nikki and Lana’s open curiosity and knew they would certainly ask at first opportunity. Evangeline figured if Steph had wanted them to know, she would have volunteered where she got her info, so she hadn’t pursued the matter and had continued asking questions before either Nikki or Lana could pounce on the opportunity to grill their friend.

Evangeline made her way to the bar, pondering how many drinks she could afford and how she should space them accordingly so it didn’t look so obvious that she didn’t belong. If she bought one, she could nurse it a long time and at least look like she was doing something other than standing around looking and feeling out of place. But then again she needed at least one drink in her to fortify herself before venturing onto the dance floor, where she would likely see Eddie and whoever his latest conquest was.

She glanced down, wondering if she was out of her mind for thinking, even for a moment, that Eddie would look at her and feel any regret for what he’d thrown away so callously. Even a freaking bouncer had found her lacking, so who was she kidding?

She murmured her order to the bartender and he smiled at her, his eyes twinkling. It was the first overt gesture of welcome she’d received since arriving at this place, so she smiled back. A genuine smile. One that said thank you. He winked at her and then began making her froufrou girly drink, as the girls called them. Hey, she couldn’t help it that she was a complete lightweight when it came to alcohol. Just because she served the stuff every night didn’t mean she partook of it.

Besides, she liked fruity drinks and she especially appreciated that the bartender stuck one of those tropical umbrellas along with a cherry into the drink just before sliding it over the bar to her.

“On the house, babe,” he said when she carefully pulled out one of the bills from her precious cache in the tiny clutch she had draped cross-body so she didn’t have to worry about dropping it or laying it down and forgetting about it.

She lifted her startled gaze to him. “But you can’t do that. You’ll get into trouble!”

He winked again and just shook his head before heading down to attend to another customer.

Well. Maybe not everyone found her a miserable failure. And he was pretty cute. No, not cute. There was one thing she was picking up on even though she hadn’t ventured far into the club yet. The men who worked here weren’t pretty boys. They were guys who were buff and built and looked like they could handle themselves in a fight. And the women were beautiful. Classy looking and elegant. There would be no looking down one’s nose at one of the waitresses here because they looked like high-society chicks who just happened to be serving drinks. Apparently being beautiful was not only a requirement of being allowed into the club but also to work here.

She was so out of place it wasn’t even funny.

She turned around, bringing the glass to her mouth, noticing several glances thrown her way. She fidgeted uncomfortably. Was it that obvious she didn’t belong? One could only take so much judgment even if she had marched in here determined to get some of her own back.

After observing yet another set of eyes flashing in her direction, she decided she’d had enough. This was absurd. What was she trying to prove? And why? She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone but herself, and she knew she was better off without Eddie. She hadn’t come in here so he’d drop to his knees and beg her to come back. Not that it wasn’t an appealing image if for no other reason she could kick him in the balls and tell him, Over my dead body.

An ache filtered into her chest. No, she’d simply come because she’d wanted him to know he was wrong. That she wasn’t a mousy, passionless woman. She could be beautiful. Even if none of it was real and was, instead, courtesy of her friends’ skill with hair and makeup. Not to mention the dress and shoes they’d outfitted her in. The way-too-form-fitting dress that outlined every single curve and dip of her body. A dress she would have never dared to wear before even if her friends forever despaired of her hiding what they called a “hot mama body.”

Whatever. They were her friends and they were entitled to be biased. But Evangeline knew the truth. Just as Eddie also knew the truth, and she was a fool to come here and think for a moment he’d change his mind and regret anything.

She was about to turn and place her drink back on the bar and then swiftly take her leave when she saw him from the corner of her eye.

Oh shit, oh shit!

She froze, not wanting to turn quickly to hide in case he’d already seen her, because she would not make it obvious that she was trying to hide. Instead she pretended interest in the dance floor through the wide soundproof double doors to her left as though she were just finishing up her drink before opting to make her way out onto it.

Maybe he hadn’t seen her. Maybe he was leaving.

Laughter sounded close. Too damn close.

Shit.

All her maybes went right out of the door. Where she wished Eddie had gone.

“What the hell are you doing here, Evangeline?” Eddie asked, amusement thick in his voice.

She slowly turned her cool gaze on him, purposely widening her eyes as if surprised to see him.

“Oh hello, Eddie,” she said. She nodded politely at the woman clinging like a burr to his arm. The woman who did not look pleased that Eddie was talking to Evangeline. “I would think it’s obvious what I’m doing here. What does anyone do here? They have a few drinks and dance. Which is precisely what I intend to do. If you’ll excuse me, I’m heading onto the floor. Good to see you. Hope y’all have a good night.”

She started to slip past Eddie, but his hand flew out and cut painfully into her arm. She whirled in shock, staring at him like he’d lost his mind.

“Let go!” she said hoarsely. “Eddie, you’re hurting me!”

He laughed cruelly. “What’s your game, Evangeline? Come to find me? Beg me to come back to you? Want to go another round with me after I kicked you out of my bed? Come on, sweetheart. No one is that desperate. Sticking my dick in your cunt was like fucking a snowdrift.”

Evangeline was shocked by his coarse language and the fact that he was speaking loudly enough for the entire bar to hear. Her cheeks burned in mortification and she staggered as though he’d struck her.

“Let go of me,” she hissed.

But his grip only grew tighter, bruising her fair skin. She’d wear his fingerprints for days.

The woman at his side laughed, the sound tinkly and abrasive, like ice cubes dropping into a glass.

“Oh, this is the one you were telling me about,” she said in a silky voice.

She stared at Evangeline, fake pity in her eyes.

“Too bad you weren’t woman enough to keep him,” she purred. “But you can bet I’ll be woman enough to keep him satisfied.”

Evangeline was too shocked, too mortified to respond. She should have responded with cutting remarks of her own. Not showing either of them how much they’d ripped her apart. Her only triumph was that she managed—barely—to keep the tears that burned the edges of her eyes at bay because that was more humiliation than even she could bear. He’d made her cry once. Never again would she allow him to do it.

“What I think,” she said, proud of her calm, even tone, “is that you and your little prostitute should skitter on out of here and back to the alley where you belong. And if you don’t let go of my arm, I’ll press assault charges.”

Eddie’s eyes narrowed as fury washed over his features. His cheeks grew red and mottled as he advanced, pushing farther into her space until she could feel and smell his hot, fetid breath blasting her face. Menace burned brightly in his eyes, and she knew it was about to get even uglier.

“You little bitch!”





Drake Donovan saw her the moment she walked into the club. He was sitting high above the dance floor in his private quarters, several surveillance monitors strategically placed for easy viewing of every inch of the club. He didn’t just own the club and assume a hands-off approach. He owned many businesses and he had a tight leash on them all. And he closely monitored the goings-on any time he was here.

He quickly zoomed in on the curvy blonde who warily entered the front bar, her eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. A blistering curse blew from his lips even as he continued to track her every movement.

Someone was going to lose their goddamn job over this.

Drake had a strict policy about who was and wasn’t allowed in his club. And innocent, naïve-looking girls like the one who’d just walked hesitantly into his bar without a man at her side to protect her was definitely not someone who should have ever gotten by his bouncer.

Fucking Anthony knew better. What the hell was he thinking, allowing her in? Heads were going to roll. Just as soon as he got her the hell out of his club with the understanding that she was never allowed back.

And yet he hesitated because she fascinated him. There was something about her, and he couldn’t put his finger on what. He watched intently as she hesitantly made her way to the bar, where she was treated to a wink and a smile from Drew, his bartender. A man he suddenly had the strongest urge to fire for no other reason than that he was flirting with the blue-eyed enchantress. Drew flirted with all the females. So why was Drake so up in arms over his harmless flirtation with a woman who would never be back in Drake’s club, for fuck’s sake?

He let out his breath in a long exhale when she turned away from the bar and faced in the direction of the dance floor. He was treated to an up-close, full-frontal view, and it was spectacular.

Everything about her did it for him, and yet she was the complete antithesis of the women he usually fucked. And judging by the many appreciative male gazes and the decidedly unfriendly looks from the women, he wasn’t wrong in his assessment of her.

Hell, she’d end up causing a damn riot if he didn’t get her the hell out and soon.

A woman looking like her in a club like his? Those big wide eyes, a curvy body in a dress that left nothing to the imagination. A woman who screamed innocence and inspired a man to want to get her into bed as fast as he could so he could teach her how to please him.

Yeah, she was serious trouble with a capital T. But all he could think about was getting her out of the fucking club and into somewhere private before some other guy made a play for her.

He was so absorbed in his perusal of the unknown woman that he didn’t notice the guy with a skank practically shrink-wrapped to his side blazing a trail directly toward her.

He saw the woman’s head come up and he zoomed in with the push of a button, focusing the camera directly on her. There was surprise in her eyes, but something else too. Something Drake didn’t like at all.

Fear.

The man spoke to her, and it was obvious that what he was saying wasn’t at all nice or complimentary. The woman’s face went white, and she teetered like her legs were about to go out from beneath her. And the man’s fingers were wrapped around her arm.

He saw her wince in pain just as he also saw the man tighten his hold on her. Then the man advanced even farther, getting into her space.

Drew, the bartender, was leaping over the bar just as Drake hit the button for Maddox. Goddamn it. Goddamn it!

Maddox was there in three seconds.

Drake pointed at the monitor. “Go get her. Now,” he barked. “Bring her to me and make damn sure the man accosting her is thrown out, taught a lesson and never allowed back into any of my establishments.”

Maddox’s eyes reflected shock, and Drake knew why. No one but his most trusted men were ever allowed in Drake’s private quarters. And certainly no women had ever been here. But it was a testament to Maddox’s training and loyalty. He didn’t hesitate. Didn’t ask questions. He merely nodded and was gone in a flash. On the monitor, Drake saw Drew hold up, a pissed-off look on his face, his brow creased in annoyance. Maddox must have radioed him and told him that the man was his.

All his employees wore earpieces so that he or his men could communicate with them at all times.

Drew looked like he was about to disobey his directive from Maddox and lay out the guy anyway when Maddox appeared on the scene. Drake wouldn’t chastise or discipline his employee as he would normally if a direct order was disobeyed. He well understood Drew’s rage and why he couldn’t stand for the woman to remain in that asshole’s grasp another second.

Drake watched, his eyes glittering with satisfaction as Maddox pulled the guy up off the floor by his collar—after landing three lightning-fast punches that left the guy senseless—and tossed him toward a pissed-off Zander, another of Drake’s men who’d instantly appeared at Maddox’s command. Zander hauled him toward the door, the back door, where Silas and Jax would be waiting. They would all give the little asshole a dose of his own medicine by overcompensating the odds to teach the little bastard a lesson. A little three-on-one was exactly what a man deserved for abusing a defenseless woman, even though even one of Drake’s men could have done more than a sufficient job against the fucking pussy.

• • •

Evangeline sucked in her breath in fear—and pain—as Eddie got into her face, his expression murderous. His grip on her arm was crushing, and he’d flung off his girl du jour, which freed his other hand.

Her glance skittered to that hand, which was now balled into a fist, and he lifted it. Oh my God! He was going to hit her and there was nothing she could do about it. She tried to lift her knee and ram it into his balls, but her damn dress was so tight she couldn’t raise her leg more than a few inches.

She began struggling wildly, her eyes darting around the room, pleading for someone—anyone—to intervene. Were they all just going to stand by while he assaulted her in public?

She managed to get one hand into his face, raking his cheek with her nails, a pitiful defense when she was so much smaller and wasn’t nearly as strong. He roared and she knew she’d made a very bad mistake.

She saw his fist coming at her. Tried to duck but knew he’d hit her. Knew he’d probably knock her out, leaving her completely helpless against God only knew whatever else he planned to do.

But then to her complete bewilderment, a hand, a really huge, beefy hand, lashed out and caught Eddie’s fist as if it were nothing more than a child’s. An enormous man loomed over Eddie, a killing rage flashing over his features. He squeezed Eddie’s hand and Evangeline could swear she heard bones snapping.

Eddie let go of her completely and screamed. He actually screamed. She winced because wow, it was pathetic. A grown man screaming like a girl. The man continued his assault, bending Eddie’s arm until Eddie went to his knees, whimpering like a kicked puppy.

Evangeline backed hastily away, wanting only to get out as fast as she could. She would have run if her legs hadn’t been wobbling so badly.

The man, seemingly unruffled by Eddie on his knees begging piteously, turned and pinned Evangeline with dark green eyes. She swallowed because, whoa. Not only was the man seriously hot, but he was extremely intimidating. In that moment, she didn’t know if she was more terrified of Eddie or the guy who’d intervened on her behalf.

“You, don’t move,” he clipped out.

She locked her knees and nodded, wondering why she’d just obeyed this man. But then there was the fact that he looked like he could crush her like a bug—hell, he’d just crushed Eddie like a bug, and Eddie was a lot bigger than Evangeline—that was the deciding factor in her compliance.

Shit, shit, shit. What the hell had she gotten herself into? She knew this had been a bad idea and that she should have never let her girlfriends talk her into this complete debacle. She needed to apologize fast and then swear she’d never come back and get the hell out as fast as she could. Go home to her girls and eat a pint—no, a gallon—of ice cream and at least give them the satisfaction of hearing of Eddie’s humiliation.

Eddie was on the floor in a fetal position now, and Evangeline just now noticed that the bartender was just to her side, a look of disgust on his face. Had he intended to intervene? For that matter, a quick look around the room told her that everyone thought Eddie was a pathetic excuse for a man. She’d take what little satisfaction she could derive from that. A few bruises on her arm was a small price to pay to see him so humbled. She wasn’t so nice and forgiving that