Dangerous Desire, Book 3
I got two things from Lucas Pratt for our engagement: a two-carat solitaire diamond ring that made my stomach ache with how stunning it was, and a Doberman puppy.
Lucas wasn’t happy about the puppy. He wanted to buy a full-grown, trained-to-kill Doberman guard dog. I told him no. Now, I’ve told Lucas Pratt no many times before, just recently about his desire to get me a guard dog. I don’t need one. I’ve got Francis.
Brief recap: While Lucas was recovering from his showdown with Rufie, the newest leader of Lucas’s old gang, Francis and Fluffy were acting as my shadows whenever I stepped foot outside the house. Francis was a full-grown, trained-to-kill Doberman guard dog. Fluffy was Francis’s owner, a Marine and probably the second most intimidating person I’d met in my twenty-two years. The most intimidating person I’d ever met was a forty-five-year old veterinarian called Dr. Lila Winchester. I thank God ever day Lila was now my friend. If she wasn’t…
It took a little persuasion to convince Lucas I needed a puppy rather than a canine protector. By persuasion, I mean I took a page out of Lucas’s book and manipulated him through sex into finally saying yes to the puppy.
Lucas may be recuperating from some serious fight action, courtesy of his confrontation with Rufie, but he has never let being injured stop him from giving me the most incredible sex of my life. Trust me.
So yes, I used sex to get my own way, which was a puppy.
Am I proud of that? I’m not sure. Let’s go with I’m ambivalent about it.
But I got a puppy. An adorable Doberman puppy whose tail I insisted be left undocked, with uncut ears and a cheeky yap. And, I think, I finally got Lucas to acknowledge I can be as stubborn as he can.
Relationship growth is a good thing.
When your bad-boy next-door neighbor—a guy hotter than sin who you’ve secretly lusted after since you were sixteen—reveals he’s secretly been in love with you from nearly the same age, has dealt with corrupt cops and sadistic gang members for years to keep you safe because he loves you, you know you’ve found your HEA. The only trouble with that is, Lucas put me on a pedestal; his good girl who can do no wrong, who needs to be protected from the dark shit in life.
I may be a good girl—hell, I can’t remember ever once being grounded by my parents when I was living at home with them, or put on detention at school—but I don’t deserve to be on a pedestal.
Manipulating Lucas with sex to get my own stubborn way proved that.
I could be wrong, but I think Lucas admired me just as much as I pissed him off when he realized what I’d done. I swear I could see the twinkle in his eyes when we were collecting my new puppy.
God, I love him.
So, massive chunk of sparkly rock on my ring finger, an utterly adorable puppy Doberman I named Groot, two minders in the form of a six-foot-five Marine and a sleek guard dog, and a fiancé who loves me enough to kill anyone who threatens me.
My life. In a nutshell.
My parents—at the halfway point of their eight-week cruise—were oblivious to the events of the last month. They had no clue about Lucas arriving naked in my house, bruised and bloody and delirious, before pretty much abducting me to what is now our home in the next state.
They had no clue about the corrupt detective obsessed with Lucas who tracked us there with the aim of making Lucas his sex slave by threatening to kill me.
They had no clue about Lucas’s old gang coming after him a week later, again threatening to kill me unless he let them beat him to death (my parents also had no clue Lucas was even in a gang. They just thought he was their next-door neighbor’s bad-news son).
They definitely had no idea I’d quit my job at the bakery and was now living in a house that belonged on a Kayne West video. They were clueless to the fact I was now friends with an ex-CIA agent (among other things) who spent her spare time—when not being a veterinarian—dealing out punishment to corrupt cops and gang members in ways I don’t even want to think about.
And last—but not least—Mom and Dad had no clue whatsoever I was now engaged.
Suffice to say, they were going to be surprised. Dad was going to be pissed.
Was I nervous? A little. But hey, I still had a while before they were due home. In that time, I’d figure out a way to break the news to them without Dad having an aneurism.
For now, I had my puppy, my minders, and Lucas. I couldn’t be any happier.
And then I came upon the little boy, and all hell broke loose.
Not because the kid was dangerous, or evil, or in any way a tactic used by those who still wanted to hurt Lucas (with his past lifestyle, there were a lot out there who fell into that category), but because the lost kid made me famous in the media for a brief moment.
And that brief moment, barely a twenty-four-hour news cycle, was enough.
Let’s start this story back then, shall we?
Running dangerously low on milk, I decided to take Groot to the local market. I’m a bit of a milk junkie. I can drink a quart of milk by myself, straight out of the carton if the mood takes me.
The mood took me when Lucas was asleep. Around six-thirty in the morning.
I was up, watching the night sky slowly fade to that beautiful purpley-pink color of dawn, thinking about how I was going to tell Mom and Dad about…well, everything.
Wording it over in my head. And re-wording it. And re-re-wording it.
Dad was—how shall I put this—protective of his only child. He wasn’t going to just shrug everything off and say “as long as Lucas loves you”. Lucas did love me, and, as I knew all too well, would kill to protect me, but that very fact was probably a negative in Dad’s eyes. Who wants a killer for a son-in-law? Even if the killer only does so for love?
Whoa, even my internal argument for why ours was a true Happy Ever After was making me unsettled. Dad was going to…
So, dawn sky, fading stars, deep breathing, and a sudden thirst for milk.
Without waking Lucas—who looked too peaceful, and way too sexy sleeping naked as he did in our bed—or getting Fluffy and Francis, I bundled Groot into my car and drove to the local market. I’d done some serious self-defense training since Lucas revealed who he really was, and I going to a public place crowded with people. It was totally going to be okay.
I love farmers’ markets. The bustle, the fresh produce, the delicious aromas wafting from the food trucks, the energy of all the people there. It’s a great way to spend your morning. Groot pulled on his leash, sniffing everything.
People smiled at him—how could you not? A puppy Doberman is adorable, especially one with floppy ears and a long happy tail—and at me. I smiled back. Nodded hello.
A wonderful morning.
I bought three gallons of milk, some fresh croissants (Lucas and Fluffy love croissants for breakfast, but despite once working in a bakery, I can’t make them successfully no matter how often I try), fresh eggs, a big bag of cherries, and some tulips for the dining table.
Oh, and a big bone for Groot to gnaw on once we returned home.
After all my purchases, I decided to grab a coffee and just chillax for a while. I was sitting at a picnic table away from the main crowd, with the morning sun warming my face, sipping at my hot coffee, when my phone vibrated in my bag.
Lucas, it would seem, had woken. And found me not there.
The first thing he would have done was check with Fluffy to see if the Marine was with me.
The second thing Lucas would have done, on discovering Fluffy wasn’t, was curse. A few choice f-bombs. Then he would have called me.
Hence my phone vibrating in my bag now.
“I’m in trouble, Groot.” I grinned.
Groot woofed back at me.
Yeah, neither of us were worried. What was going to happen at a farmers’ market, for Pete’s sake? Lucas (and Fluffy) needed to relax a bit.
“Good morning,” I said into my phone, letting my grin dance on my greeting.
“I’m in bed, naked and alone.” Lucas’s growl sent a delicious shiver up my spine and made my nipples pinch hard. “You know how I feel about waking naked and alone.”
My body reacted to the sound. I would never get enough of Lucas’s laugh; it was carnal and wicked and devilish and horny. It also made me regret not being naked in bed with him at that very moment in time.
“We needed milk,” I said, my voice a little husky. When it came to Lucas Pratt, I was a nymphomaniac. “And Groot needed an adventure.”
“Fluffy tells me you left without him and Francis.”
The censure in the statement made me twist my lips. “I’m okay, Lucas. I’m not defenseless, remember. And you’ve taken care of everyone out to hurt us.”
A beat of silence filled the line, and then Lucas sighed. “Oh babe, I wish that was the case.”
My stomach clenched. A little. And then I said pfft. “We’re okay. Honest. I’m about to come home anyway. Just finishing this coffee.”
From the corner of my eye, I noticed a little boy inching towards me.
“So what you need to do,” I said to Lucas, “is stop freaking out.”
I turned, aware the little boy was now sitting on the bench beside me. “Hello. What’s your name?”
“Whose name?” Agitated confusion filled Lucas’s question.
I ignored him.
The little boy gave me a shy half smile, his wide-eyed stare flicking between me and Groot.
A knot twisted in my stomach. When was the last time he’d had a bath? Dirt and grime clung to him, and his hair looked like it hadn’t seen a brush—or shampoo—in a long, long time.
“Whose name?” Lucas repeated.
The little boy looked at Groot again.
I gently stroked my hand over Groot’s head. He wriggled on my lap, tail thumping my hip. “This is Groot. Would you like to pet him?”
The little boy jerked his stare up from Groot to me.
“Who are you talking to?” Lucas demanded.
“He’s friendly,” I said with a smile.
“Who’s friendly?” Lucas growled in my ear.
The boy inched closer to me, attention once again fixed on Groot.
This close, I could smell he was overdue for some soap. Why was he in such a state? Where were his parents? An adult responsible for him? Surely they had to be nearby? He could barely be seven years of age, too young to be out by himself.
I looked around. Nada. We were completely alone.
“He won’t bite,” I said.
“I might,” Lucas snarled through the phone connection. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
My new friend gave me another shy smile and then a bigger one to Groot.
“Would you like to pet him?”
“Ronnie,” frustration and concern laced Lucas’s voice, “please tell me who you are talking to?”
“Shhh,” I said gently into my phone, my gaze locked on the little boy. My gut was telling me…something. I wasn’t sure what yet, but something…
“Just tell me you’re okay and I will,” Lucas answered.
“I’m awesome, Lucas.”
The boy inched closer still, dirt-smudged hand hesitantly stretching out toward Groot.
Groot, for his part, was wriggling on my lap and wagging his tail, doggy senses telling him he was on the verge of being petted. Being petted was one of his favorite things.
“It’s okay,” I murmured, keeping my voice calm. “He loves pats and cuddles.”
With another quick glance at me, the boy slid completely against my side, his hip pressed to my thigh, and stroked his fingertips over Groot’s back.
Two things happened.
Groot burst into enthusiastic puppy joy and licked his hand, and the sun came out on the little boy’s face and he burst into giggles.
“He likes you.” I grinned.
Groot squirmed, demanding more pats.
“His name is Groot.”
“Hello Groot,” the little boy said. His voice was soft and husky, like he hadn’t spoken for a long while.
“Would you like to hold him?”
Once again, the sun beamed in his face. “Can I?”
“Is that a little kid’s voice?” Lucas asked.
“Yes,” I answered both of them.
Keeping my actions modulated and slow, I scooped up Groot—now a wriggling, tail-wagging bundle of excitement—and gently deposited him on the boy’s lap.
Giggles all round, growing happier and louder as Groot licked his face.
“Why are you talking to a boy?” Lucas asked. Phew, he no longer sounded frustrated or worried. Now he sounded puzzled. Puzzled was okay. I was puzzled by my new little companion. “Who is he?”
“His tongue tickles.”
I laughed at the boy’s giggled observation. “It does, doesn’t it.”
An enthusiastic nod, followed by more giggles.
“What’s your name?”
He became still, his tiny, dirty arms wrapping around Groot. Groot tried to lick his face again. “Bobby.”
I smiled. “Hi Bobby. I’m Ronnie. Are you here with someone? Your parents?”
His bottom lip wobbled and he closed his eyes and pressed his face into Groot. “Daddy told me Mommy doesn’t want me anymore.”
My skin turned cold. Clammy. A hot lump filled my throat. “Where’s your daddy?”
He shook his head against Groot.
“Ronnie?” Lucas said in my ear. “Did he say his name was Bobby?”
“Yes,” I whispered, stare fixed on Bobby’s head. He was hugging Groot like he was the most important thing in his life.
“What does he look like?”
I frowned. “Thin. Brown hair. Maybe six or seven. Wearing a Spiderman T-shirt. I think he has freckles but it’s hard to tell. He’s very dirty.”
“Ronnie.” My pulse thumped into overdrive at the serious tone in Lucas’s voice. “I think your new little friend may be Robert Walker. He’s been on the news for the last few days. His father snatched him last week when a divorce judge denied him visitation rights.”
My stomach dropped. My head began to roar.
“Bobby?” Gently—so gently—I smoothed my hand over Bobby’s back. My God, I could feel the bones of his spine. And the trembles quaking through him. “Is your last name Walker?”
“Mommy’s last name is Walker,” he mumbled into Groot. “Daddy says my last name has to be Singer now.”
I closed my eyes. Shit.
He looked up at me. Tears swam in his eyes.
“I think your mommy would be very excited to see you.”
A fat tear trickled down his dirt-smudged cheek. “Daddy says I’m not allowed to talk to people.”
The hot lump in my throat turned to a hot ball of anger. “Does he know where you are?”
Bobby shook his head. “I got hungry, so I climbed out.”
“Of the house under the ground.”
Holy fuck. What was his father—
“Ronnie,” Lucas said, calm but oh so serious. “Get him to the cops straight away. Get him there now. I’m on my way.”
“Okay.” Mouth dry, I ended the call. I didn’t need to tell him where I was. I shared my phone’s location with Lucas 24/7.
Bobby looked up at me. More tears spilled from his eyes. He hugged Groot to his chest. “I want my mommy.”
I gave him a gentle smile and smoothed my hand over his back again. “Let’s get you to her then.”
It took me a few seconds to find the location of the closest police station. Google told me I could walk there in less than five minutes.
Five minutes of walking, during which Bobby’s father could find him. Find him. Try to take him away again.
Five exposed minutes.
It would take me almost that long to walk to where I’d parked my car. So, did I walk to my car where I’d left it away from the crowd, or did I walk with Bobby directly to the police station, on busy sidewalks, past shops and—hopefully—lots of people?
At that point in time, I really was wishing Groot was older. Or maybe that I’d brought Francis with me as well. And Fluffy. And that I’d woken Lucas before leaving and asked him to come with me…
My stomach rolled. I scanned the area around me. The crowd at the farmers’ market was beginning to thin out. No one was paying me and Bobby any attention.
“Do you want to hold Groot’s leash?” I offered it to Bobby. “While I hold your hand?”
He studied both—my hand and the leash—with a solemnity I’d never seen on a little kid, before nodding.
His fingers wrapped around mine and he squeezed tight.
I handed him Groot’s leash and he took it with his free hand. “If Daddy sees me,” he watched Groot bounce around at his feet, “he will hit…he will be mad.”
I swallowed. “I won’t let him hurt you.”
And I wouldn’t. I’d learned a thing or two since Lucas had revealed everything to me. If Bobby’s father found him, tried to take him back, well, let’s just say I know how to rupture a testicle with my elbow and leave it at that.
Leaving my purchases on the table (I needed my hands available, not holding bags), we began walking. Away from the markets, heading for the police station.
Three blocks in and I was a jumpy mess, doing my best not to flinch at every sound, at every person we saw, at every goddamn shadow. Thank God Bobby seemed to get lost in the joy of Groot.
By the time I saw the police station, Bobby was laughing and almost skipping. His grip on my hand didn’t lessen, however. And he stayed so close, his hip kept bumping against my leg.
Approaching the entry door of the police station, I squeezed Bobby’s fingers a little. “We’ll call your mommy from in here, okay?”
He nodded up at me.
“I bet she’s going to be excited to see—”
A man came out of nowhere. Charged at us.
Groot started yapping.
I hauled Bobby to my body, just as the man reached us. “Get away from—”
He smashed his fist against my jaw.
And all hell broke loose.
Pain—white-hot pain—exploded in my face, my head. Groot growled, no sign of the friendly puppy, now an angry Doberman.
Bobby screamed again—Daddy no! No Daddy no!—as he clung to me.
The man pulled at him, trying to tear him away from me by his arm.
I lashed out with my feet, holding Bobby against my body as tight as I could, my vision blurred with pain and fury, my head roaring.
“Let him go!” Bobby’s father yelled, tugging on his son. “Let him go, bitch!”
“Daddy, stop!” Bobby cried. Groot barked.
I saw Bobby’s father flinch, saw him glance down, and then Groot yelped, a loud, sickening yelp.
My dog. The bastard kicked my dog. The bastard had kicked Groot!
“Let him go,” the vile man screamed, grabbing at Bobby again.
I twisted, pulling Bobby out of his hand. “Let him go!” Yes, I screamed the same thing back at him.
He punched me. Again. On the cheek.
Black stars erupted in my vision. Sound vanished, replaced for a split second by a drill ringing.
And then a tall man covered in tattoos slammed into Bobby’s father, driving him sideways, smashing him to the ground.
On top of him, hands around his throat.
Lucas. Pinning him to the ground.
Cops suddenly surrounded us. Poured from the station house. Guns leveled on Lucas and Bobby’s father. Cocked guns.
Locked on them.
Oh God, no.
“Give me my son,” Bobby’s father rasped, bucking and flailing beneath Lucas. “That bitch took my—”
Lucas reeled back and, uncaring of the guns pointed straight at him, smashed his fist into the man’s nose.
* * * *
They arrested Lucas.
It took three cops to bring him down. And by bring him down, I mean two cops surrounding him, guns aimed at his chest, and one cop placing him in cuffs. Lucas didn’t put up a fight. I know why. The threat to me—that being Bobby’s father—was neutralized. With that one single punch.
Stare locked on me, Lucas rose to his feet, stepped over the inert body, and placed his hands behind his head.
“No,” I said. “He didn’t do anything wrong.” In my arms, Bobby cried. I had no idea where Groot was. “He didn’t do any—”
One of the cops swung his gun towards me.
“No, no!” I shouted. Were they insane? Was Lucas?
Bobby cried louder. Clung to me tighter.
“The guy on the ground,” I held Lucas’s flat, furious gaze, “is Robert Walker’s father. This is Robert Walker, the little boy who was stolen from his mom by his dad.”
Bobby buried his face into my neck. His tears burned my skin.
Lucas didn’t resist as the cop who’d cuffed him continued the task of arresting him. More cops swarmed the area. Two rolled Bobby’s unconscious father onto his stomach.
I kept my stare on Lucas.
I needed him to keep calm with me. To keep me from freaking out. The last time Lucas was at the mercy of the police force, he’d been—
“Ma’am?” A cop was talking to me. “Ma’am, you need to come with me.”
Bobby sobbed into the side of my neck. I held him. I wasn’t letting him go. Not yet. “Where’s my dog?”
It probably sounded like a stupid question, given the situation—Lucas arrested, Bobby’s father being searched for identification, Bobby crying in my arms, cops and stunned people surrounding us all—but I needed to know.
I also needed to distract Lucas as much as I could.
Remove his finger from the metaphorical trigger.
A couple of the cops looked around themselves.
“Call Dr. Winchester,” Lucas said. Christ, his voice was calm. Scary calm. But I understood.
I nodded, just as the cop who’d cuffed him and read him his rights began dragging him away.
“Ma’am,” the cop who’d spoken to me earlier touched my shoulder. “Who is Dr. Winchester?”
Bobby clamped his arms and legs tighter around me.
I watched Lucas being walked through the door into the police station. My stomach clenched. How many times in his past had that very thing happened to him before?
Lucas. In the hands of the cops again.
“My dog’s veterinarian.”
I didn’t need to look at the cop to see the shock on his face. Of course he’d be shocked. Who asks for an animal doctor during a situation like this?
To be fair, he had no idea Lila Winchester was more than just a veterinarian.
“Ma’am, I’m going to take the boy from you n—”
“No!” Bobby wailed. I didn’t think it was possible, but he clung to me tighter.
I finally tore my stare from the police station door—Lucas was inside. So was Bobby’s father—and looked at the cop talking to me. “I’m not letting Bobby go until his mom is here. And only if Bobby says I can.”
The cop blinked.
“Now find my dog and let me call my veterinarian in peace.”
* * * *
I called Lila Winchester and told her what was going on. By the time she told me—in that poised, take-no-shit voice of hers—not to worry, the cop (who looked like a baby-faced Bernie Sanders) was walking towards me with a squirming Groot in his arms.
“I’ll try not to,” I replied, before ending the call.
Groot saw me and wriggled out of Officer Bernie’s arms. I couldn’t help but smile. My dog was clearly okay. I took it as a good omen.
Forty-five minutes later, sitting in the police station with Bobby asleep on my lap and Groot asleep on my foot, I watched Lucas walk out of a room to the right. Un-cuffed.
Rubbing at his wrists, he scanned his surroundings, saw me, and strode away from the cop who had walked with him out of the room.
As much as I wanted to leap up and throw myself into his arms and kiss him stupid, I stayed still. I didn’t want to disturb Bobby. Or Groot, for that matter.
“Are you okay?” Lucas crouched down onto his haunches in front of me, hands on my knees. As always, a tingle of happiness and something so much more carnal shot through me at his touch.
I nodded. “Better, now you’re out of cuffs.”
He chuckled, the sound low and relaxed, and gave Groot a quick pat. “Lila works her magic quick, even when she’s on the other side of the country.”
“What did she do?”
He shook his head. “Don’t know. But I’m out without any further questions, so I’m okay with that.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Me too.”
He gazed into my eyes for a long moment before touching my bruised cheek with gentle fingers. “How’s your face?”
“Sore.” No point in lying. “But I’ll live. Are you allowed to go?”
He nodded, and then looked down at Bobby. “But not until you do. Which I suspect won’t be until this little guy is ready to let you?”
Warmth flooded through me. I loved him for so many reasons; that he understood me and the way my mind worked was up there at the top.
Officer Bernie quietly approached, cleared his throat just as quietly, and flicked Lucas an uneasy glance. Damn, what had Lila said or done to get Lucas released so quickly?
“Sorry to interrupt,” he looked back at me, “but Bobby’s mother has arrived.”
My chest tightened. I’d given my statement to Officer Bernie upon entering the station. Bobby had fallen asleep in the middle of it. Even though the little boy was sleeping, I kept my word. I didn’t let him go.
And I wouldn’t. Not until he said I could.
“Bobby?” I said softly, giving him a little squeeze. “Bobby, your mommy is here.”
He shifted on my lap, limbs and eyes heavy with sleep.
“Bobby,” I said again, my focused now on the woman rushing towards us from the other side of the station’s bullpen. “Your mommy is here.”
He looked up at me, face confused with sleep, and then, at the sound of a woman’s voice calling Bobby, his eyes grew wide and he twisted on my lap.
“Mommy!” He threw himself off my lap. Ran to his mother, now running to him.
A hot lump filled my throat. Just as hot as the tears stinging my eyes.
“Okay,” I said, rising to my feet. “Let’s go.”
I needed to get out of there. Bobby was with his mother. Now it was time for me, Lucas and Groot to go home.
All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around the man I loved, kiss him, and ignore the rest of the world for the rest of the day.
At my feet, Groot shook away his doggy nap. I scooped him up and, with a quick smile at the beautiful and tearful reunion happening between Bobby and his mom, took Lucas’s hand.
At some point in time, I’m sure she and I will meet, talk, but now wasn’t that time. I just wanted to go home. Lucas clearly sensed my mood. With a silent nod, he squeezed my hand and we hurried from the bullpen.
No one stopped us. Everyone was too busy watching Bobby and his mom.
I saw more than one big tough cop wipe at his eyes.
Yeah, emotions were high. So when Lucas and I stepped through the door onto the sidewalk, I wasn’t prepared for what greeted us.
Cameras. Media cameras. And phones. Everywhere. People everywhere. Shouting question at us.
“You found Robert Walker,” a man shoved a microphone at me, the man beside him doing the same with the camera on his shoulder, “and fought with his father. What did Andrew Singer say to you? How did you find Robert?”
I stumbled backward. Groot began to growl. Lucas wrapped an arm around me, pulled me hard to his side and—other arm raised—shoved a path through the throng.
More shouted questions. More cameras and phones pushed into my face. So many reporters, so many questions…
My heart raced. Groot snarled and barked. Lucas shielded me from the crowd.
And then we were in a car—his massive Dodge pickup—and tearing away from the curb.
And that’s how, in saving a little boy stolen by his angry father, I became famous.
And drew the unwanted attention of the high court judge who wanted Lucas dead.
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