She liked this, right here. Cash was leaning against the Willow tree, and Indie was in his lap, straddling him with her head on his shoulder. After burying her kit, he’d pulled her into a chaste hug, and had been holding her for a while now, his lips on her forehead and his fingers strumming the bumps of her spine in a reassuring hold.
He was so powerful and made her feel so safe.
But she wanted more.
Indie wasn’t sure if she had ruined things though, with her complete honesty about her issues. In her mind, it had been the most beautiful experience of her life, something to share with him. By sharing the experience, she got to share the emotions behind it. As she’d gotten rid of the filth inside her, he’d replaced it with his goodness, and she was positive nothing so bad could happen to her, Indie would need to get rid of the filth again. His goodness overpowered it.
Okay, it was difficult to explain.
But Cash hadn’t questioned anything. Hadn’t apologized for anything. Hadn’t tried to make excuses for her behavior. He had just gone along with it, accepting it, her, and shared the experience. The intimacy behind it all was overwhelming.
“Can I see you?” The low rumble of his words sounded through his chest. And then the implications hit her.
She leaned back and looked at his eyes. The earnest brown depths enveloped her with his look. She trusted him.
Silently, she lifted her shirt off, watching his face as he scanned her arms, her breasts, then came back to her eyes.
“You’re so gorgeous.” He murmured as his hands ghosted up her sides and down her arms. One hand went to her hand and clasped her fingers as he drew it up to his mouth.
Then he kissed her.
Her arms. Her scars. Her cuts.
Cash kissed each and every one of them.
And with each touch of his mouth on her wounds, a warmth floated through her, growing in intensity as his mouth moved. The stubble on his chin caressed her skin, and the heat of his tongue snaked out to soothe everything as he moved up her arm.
He was careful to not leave one single scar unkissed.
Then he moved over to the next arm. His hand unclasped hers, and slowly moved to her breast, holding it while his other hand held hers up so he could kiss the other arm’s scars.
Indie closed her eyes and her head fell back, but Cash’s guttural voice stopped her.
“Look at this, Indie. Watch me love these.”
And that’s exactly what he was doing. He was loving her scars, devouring them. His hand on her breast distracted her from the inherent thoughts associated with the filth of her scars. It gently squeezed, molding the plump tissue into his palm.
When he finished with her arm, his arm went around her back, pulling her toward him and his mouth fell onto the breast he was holding.
His mouth was incredibly hot and this morning’s activities came back to her in a rush. Indie grabbed his head, pulling it toward her chest, not willing to let him stop licking and sucking her breast through the sports bra she wore.
Yes, a sports bra. In true Indie fashion, her underwear, like her outerwear, was as unsexy as she could find, more armor. But Cash didn’t seem to care.
He thought she was sexy regardless, if the hard ridge she was straddled across was any indication.
Cash started tugging, and Indie helped him get the offending restrictive piece of material off her. As they tugged it up her chest together, Cash’s eyes took in her form revealed as if he were starving and she was the only sustenance.
And then his mouth was on her again. Her collar bone. Her other breast. Wherever he could reach, he licked, sucked, and kissed. And it was exquisite.
Indie’s legs were squeezing so hard on either side of his lean hips, she didn’t see how they could get closer. But she wanted to be inside him. She wanted to peel his skin back and crawl inside his warmth, but didn’t know how to do that. She groaned in frustration as she ground down on his length but couldn’t find relief.
“Tell me what you want. You have the control here, Indie.”
“Love me.” She couldn’t say it all. That’s just what came out. What she wanted was him to make love to her, to tell her he would never let her go, he wanted to be her everything. She also knew this was the moment talking, the emotions of the day she was riding. When she was alone, she wouldn’t feel these things.
Automatically, his hands went to the snap of her jeans, undoing them and slowly pulling the zipper down. His mouth was on hers, kissing her softly. Then his hand went to his own jeans, repeating the process. She pushed off him, regretting the suddenly chill with the absence of his body heat, but quickly shucked her jeans and boots while he did the same. He tugged off his tank top, and froze, watching her warily.
She was consumed by the vision of him. His body was a work of art, every muscle and tan line evidence of hard work in the dusty sun. The length of his cock stood unashamed between the v of his hips, a small drop of glistening moisture at the tip of it.
Indie licked her lips in anticipation, and that small gestured spurred Cash into action. He grabbed his jeans and rummaged in the pockets, pulling out a wallet and then a condom. She was fascinated with his movements as he deftly handled himself while rolling it on, then fisting the bottom. It was dark red, enflamed, and his face told her he hurt.
Was that how turned on she made him?
Before she could ask the question, any question, really, he was crawling toward her. Trepidation crept up her spine at the image he created—a predator on the prowl—but she reminded herself he wouldn’t hurt her. She trusted Cash.
He stopped his crawling at her thighs, and his head lowered as he kissed up the insides of her knees. The sensual tickle was unlike anything she’d ever felt before, and she relaxed on a moan—low and feral. It didn’t sound like anything that had ever come out of her body before.
And then his mouth was on her heated core. Already dripping with need, she shivered as his lips continued their worship on her folds. It was a gentle treatment as he licked and suckled down there. The sensation of flying overwhelmed her as his lips fluttered over her nether region.
It was unbelievably gentle, not something she’d ever seen in the porn she’d watched or imagined a man as powerful as him could be. It was unbelievable, the shadowy whispers his mouth spoke into her pussy. Her limbs were weightless as she tried to writhe under him, but his hands on her thighs held her still, a tender grip with his calloused hands.
Everything was undescribable. Too much, yet not enough. It was a pleasant pain she didn’t want to end. Ever. The heat of his tongue as it ghosted over her sent corresponding waves of bliss that couldn’t be contained.
She gripped his hair, again to hold him in place. It seemed to go on for hours, or merely minutes, she couldn’t be sure. But she wanted it to end. Or go on forever. She didn’t know what her body was going to do until it happened.
The heat of her insides boiled over until she couldn’t take anymore, and she exploded into a million pieces under that Willow tree by their creek. She cried out, her body shuddering as she clasped his head and tugged him up her body.
But when he got even with her mouth, he grabbed her under the shoulders and lifted her limp body so that she was back in his lap, over his straining erection as he leaned back against the tree.
His eyes were back on hers, more intense than ever. The pupils were so dilated they almost looked black, the brown of them just a sliver of a ring around the outside.
“Use me, Indie. I’m yours.” His breath, tinged with the scent of her, rushed over her face. She lined him up and slid over him. He size stretched her, and his eyes fell closed as he groaned.
It was the hottest sound she’d ever heard.
This was almost exactly what she’d wanted. She’d wanted to peel back his skin and get inside him, but instead, he was inside her. It was the most physically intimate position she’d ever been in. Chest to chest, face to face, breath to breath.
She felt every ridge of his length inside her as it pulsed against her flesh. She could only imagine how it would feel if she moved. But she couldn’t, not yet. She wanted to enjoy this first.
“You’re in me.” More than just your blood. I finally have everything.
She raised herself up, slowly, and he whimpered as she did. When she slid back down his length, he opened his eyes and the look in them took her breath away.
Indie kept moving, not wanting him to look away, the tortured look on his face making her feel more than just the wonders of what they were doing. With each rise of her body, his features shifted, contorting back to that tormented look when she would lower herself.
She felt her insides tighten again, and moved with more urgency. Rocking against him, she felt inexperience, naïve almost, until he would make one of those desperate noises and set her off again.
His mouth was on her shoulder, kissing and sucking it, branding her with a heat she didn’t understand, but wanted more of. It seemed to flow through her insides, pooling down where they joined. Something was rubbing against him with each rocking motion, and she felt herself flying again.
This time, when she broke apart, he was right there with her, his brow furrowed, his mouth desperately kissing her neck, then his head fell back and he groaned, low and loud into the tops of the trees that surrounded them.
Cash had never felt so damn free as he felt around Indie. He couldn’t exactly explain it, but he hadn’t felt sorry for himself in over a week. He hadn’t thought about his dad or the loss of his property since he’d started hanging out with Indie. She made him forget.
It wasn’t that either of their problems had gone away, but when they were together, they didn’t matter.
Did that mean he was in love with her? He thought so, but wasn’t willing to tell her. She had to go back to Austin soon, and whatever they had would be a memory. She would go on to her fancy internship she’d been so excited to talk about two weeks ago, and he’d go back to training horses for the Roccos and saving enough money to buy his own place.
But right now, they had their creek.
Indie and Cash had lounged around in the shade with the dapples of sunlight peeking in through the leaves all afternoon, cooling off in the creek. They’d had sex in the creek, and once again on the creek bank, and cuddled. He’d held her, and everything was perfect.
She fit his arms, and holding her made him feel like he was king of the world. He wanted to make this woman happy for the rest of his life, and he didn’t know how to do that if she was leaving soon.
So he pretended this was their forever. Yet, some part of him wanted to show her off. It was a machismo that he’d suppressed since he’d met her. He’d had an undeniable need to claim her, mark her, and announce to the world she was his. The idea of showing her off to his friends was consuming him.
“Would you like to go out tonight? Meet some of my friends?” They were in the creek, her legs wrapped around his waist, and her upper body floating, her black hair a halo around her head.
He gripped her hips as he watched her. He could watch her all day, floating and blissful in the water. At peace.
It was lovely.
But it was also getting dark, and they needed to go back inside. He wasn’t super excited about sharing her with the family who already knew she was his. He wanted to let his friends know he was off the market too.
“Sure,” she said dreamily, her arms making wings in the water beside her. “Are your friends nice?”
He chuckled. “I don’t have a ton of friends, just three I care about. It would make me happy if they knew you.”
She pulled herself toward him, lifting her arms and wrapping her body around his. “Then I would be happy to meet them,” she murmured before she kissed him.
After the emotion-filled day they’d had, kissing her felt so innocent, and had to be the reason behind the liberation of the afternoon.
“Then let’s go back and get ready to show you off.”
Her smile was boundless, and made his eager cock jump against her backside. He kissed her neck. “Although maybe we have a little time…”
Evan and Jordan stomped into their parents’ house, trying to get the dirt off their feet in the foyer before she yelled at them for tracking dust all over the house. Jordan rolled his eyes at his brother’s effusive clomping, the little guy making more noise than he was worth.
Mia came down the stairs, smiling brightly. “Good news, Evan. Indie seems to be getting along swimmingly with Cash. They just left for a date.” She almost squealed, and Jordan caught himself smiling at her indulgently while simultaneously gritting his teeth in embarrassment at the scene the women undoubtedly caused when the pair left.
“Did you go girly mode and dress her?” Evan asked what Jordan was thinking.
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Paige came in from the living room and planted a kiss on Evan’s cheek. “We gave her a nice nineties grunge look that was purposely sexy and alternately badass. He about choked on his tongue when he came to get her.”
“Aw, how sweet. Am I gonna have to kick his ass later?” Evan asked her as he wrapped his arms around Paige and chased her mouth with a bigger kiss than a peck. Jordan distracted himself with his own woman, grabbing Mia and hauling her to his body.
Their mom chose that moment to walk into the foyer. “Are you guys going to eat, or what?”
“Actually, we just came back for the girls so we could have some cover at the bar tonight.” Evan let go of Paige and spoke to his mom, everything returning to PG in front of the parental unit.
“Cover?” Mom asked.
“Yeah, two single dudes draw more attention than two couples out trying to shake their parents,” Jordan added hopefully. Their mom was in complete denial about their real job, choosing to believe they chased down missing puppies or some shit all day long. Words like Cover, Hacking, and Surveillance drew her face into a pucker. It would be cute, if they weren’t grown ass men in their thirties who shot guns at people from time to time in their line of work.
“Well, say hi to Cash and Indie while you’re there, but don’t pester them.”
“They’re at the bar? Indie’s not old enough to get in there,” Evan protested.
“She’s not drinking. He just wanted to show her off, and who can blame the man?”
“How exactly did you dress her?” Evan was still in protective brother mode, and Jordan chuckled to himself while the girls went to explaining what they’d done to her.
Evan drove their Dad’s enormous truck with Paige resting her hand in his lap, desperate to ignore the tingles her touch evoked in him. Always.
“So why are we doing this tonight?” Mia asked from the backseat, where she was snuggled under Jordan’s arm.
“Because I cloned July’s computer and found out he’s making his move with someone tonight. I don’t know what the move is, or who the person is, but July is a snake, and I’m gonna cut off his head.” Evan spoke calmly, even though Paige giggled softly as her finger drew circles around his dick over his jeans. He grabbed her hand and laced her fingers through his to stop her.
“So what’s the plan?” Paige asked.
“Tonight, just to figure out who the players are. We need to find him and do what we can to overhear who he’s talking to and what they’re saying. This isn’t necessarily July who’s stealing dad’s horses, but I don’t trust the guy, and his messages say he’s doing something illegal.”
Jordan grunted in the backseat, and Evan chose to not look at his brother. He wondered, vaguely what had gotten into Paige and Mia, who both seemed to be hornier than usual. Fresh air maybe? Not having he and Jordan working constantly? Surely it wasn’t the fact they’d been hiding from Flo and his mother all month long to have sex in unlikely places, although that could be part of the allure too.
“So neither of you girls are going to actually have a conversation with the douchebag, got it? This is not a honeypot scheme, and we don’t need you two flirting with him.” Jordan huffed out the words on a growl, which to Evan wasn’t the least bit menacing.
“Yeah,” he added for effect, but it was lost on the woman next to him, whose fingers were walking up his torso. “Good god. What has gotten into you?” He looked at Paige, who was looking at him with a decidedly naughty glint in her eyes.
“I’ve never gone to work with you. This is a sexy side. Sorry.” She shrugged, but Evan didn’t think it was a very genuine apology.
Thankfully, the bar was here, a rundown roadside building with a neon sign and clapboard siding that was drooping in the middle. Bicycle wheels were nailed to the side of the building, which was odd to say the least.
“Stick close.” Evan murmured.
“I can’t wait to see Indie and Cash on their date,” Mia whispered to Paige.
Evan rolled his eyes. Christ. Indie’s mother was going to kill him if he brought her daughter home pregnant with some cowboy’s kid.
He couldn’t take his eyes off Indie. She was a walking wet dream, and all fucking his. He couldn’t stop touching her, dressed in a pair of short as fuck blue jean cut-off shorts and her Dock Martins. She also wore a tank top that was cut lower than anything he’d seen her in so far, and a flannel button-down to hide her arms. Still, she was the sexiest thing that walked down those stairs at the Rocco’s when he’d picked her up to go out. And having those arms and legs wrapped around him had made him harder than steel on the drive here.
All he could do was imagine her coming undone for him, and he felt the need to bundle her softness into his arms and abscond with her. Of course, that defeated his purpose of showing her off, so he simply gritted his teeth and smiled at Dahlia, who came over with her tray tucked under her arm and the ever-present flirty smile on her face.
“You babysitting tonight, Cash?”
“Nope. This is my girlfriend, Indie. Indie, this is Dahlia.” Cash gave in to the juvenile temptation and pulled Indie into his lap. He wanted to touch her, and Dahlia’s dirty glare wouldn’t stop him. “Can we have a pitcher, four glasses, and a soda?”
“Sure thing,” she muttered as she stomped off.
A clap on his back had Cash turning his head to see Levi coming around to sit next to him.
“You’ve done something to yourself since I was here last.” He was pretending to muse, a hand stroking his chin exaggeratedly in thought. Snapping his fingers, he shouted with joy. “I know! You have a new woman draped over you.”
Indie stiffened and Cash groaned, even as he tugged her closer.
“Don’t be a dumbass. Indie, this is Levi. Levi, this is my girl, Indie.” She relaxed, and he let his arm drop to her thigh, where the soft skin dictated he stroke it. So stroke it, he did. So smooth.
“Just kidding. It’s a pleasure.” He held out his hand to shake Indie’s before pouring himself a beer from the pitcher.
“How you been, man?”
“Surviving on less and less sleep. It doesn’t get any fucking easier. I don’t know when this kid is going to fucking give up the vampire lifestyle, but it’s gonna kill me. Draining me slowly.” He took a long pull of his beer and smacked his lips like it was a life-giving elixir, seeming to perk up. “I thought you weren’t gonna go for this one. Said she was a guest and all that?”
Levi was looking at Indie closely, and she fidgeted in Cash’s lap. He grabbed her hands and stilled them in his grip.
“I realized I liked her more than just a guest. I couldn’t let her go without telling her how I felt.” He spoke softly and clearly, so Levi would stop making her feel like shit. “Besides, she’s different.”
Levi’s eyes trailed down her legs and landed on her boots. “Yup. That she is.”
Indie huffed. “She’s sitting right here. Stop talking about me in the 3rd person.”
Levi laughed. “I don’t even know what that means. You legal?”
“Of course, or—Goddammit, Levi, shut your fucking mouth.”
Ridge’s low chuckle sounded from behind him before he plopped down in a chair on the other side of Cash. “Hey guys. What’d I miss?”
“Yeah. What did we miss?” Dalton swung around to the other chair, while grabbing the pitcher and pouring the two new-comers beers.
“Cash is fucking the Rocco’s guest.” Levi supplied.
“Oh, is she the one you were all sighing and mooning over last time you were here?” Ridge was looking at Indie like a bug under a microscope. Indie’s back stiffened and her jaw jutted out.
“Would y’all shut up and quit talking about her like she’s not here?” Cash gripped her thigh in his frustration, and Dalton’s eyes zeroed in on the movement.
“Does that mean I can go for Dahlia?”
“Of course. You’ve always been able to go for Dahlia. I don’t know how many times I have to say I’m not interested in her.” His voice raised in frustration.
“Nice.” Another pitcher slammed down, sloshing over the sides, as the waitress in question glared daggers at Cash.
“She’s probably gonna spit in your beer now,” Indie told Cash with a grin as Dahlia stomped off.
“Well, alcohol kills germs, so we’re probably okay.” Levi had just finished his first beer and filled it from the first pitcher before topping it off from the second.
“Can I dance with your girl? No handsies.” Cash’s head swung over to Ridge, who was probably his best friend out of this group. He knew the dude wouldn’t put moves on Indie, but at the same time, his innocent gesture of holding up his hands in front of him didn’t quite mesh with the calculating look in his eyes.
“Sure,” Indie answered for him and rose from his lap, taking one of Ridge’s hands and tugging him to the dance floor before Cash could respond.
He watched, slack-jawed, as Indie led Ridge to the floor and followed his lead through some pretty complicated dance moves, keeping up with the guy through the spin, swing-style two-step that Ridge was better at than any of the other guys.
They seemed deep in conversation, and Cash couldn’t stop watching as they twirled and spun and talked.
Levi whooped and clapped next to him, while Dawson mentioned something about the men’s room and went to the bar where he started hitting on Dahlia. Cash noticed all this in his peripheral vision, since he was zeroed in on Indie, her curves, her ease with this dance, and his best friend’s hands on her hips, neck, and waist as he maneuvered her body in ways that were ridiculously intimate.
All the while talking.
When the song was over, Indie was laughing and Ridge went to the back of the bar, where the pool tables were. She came back to his lap, where she belonged, while Cash was too busy tamping down a hot raging jealous streak at his best fucking friend.
“What was that all about?” Cash gritted out, tugging her up to dance with her himself. A slow song was on now, and it meant he had to curl his body around hers and dance.
“He wanted to make sure I wasn’t fucking with your head. Said something about not being as tough as you looked.” Her words were light, but the sadness in her eyes betrayed her.
“Yeah, well, you were laughing.”
She shrugged. “He has jokes. And he’s known you long enough to tell a funny story or two.”
He pulled Indie into his arms and started the easy two-step with his long legs. “I don’t even want to know. Where’d you learn to dance like that?”
“Mom’s had a lot of boyfriends. I’ve been going to honkey-tonks since I was a kid. It was her way of making sure the guys were in it for the right reason, I guess.” She shuddered in his arms, resting her head on his shoulder. Her hot breath puffed on his neck as she talked.
He noticed Sheriff July standing at the bar, talking to a stranger. Their backs to the bar, they watched Cash and Indie, which was weird. The conversation they were having out the sides of their mouths, weirder still.
Why the fuck was the Sheriff watching him while he talked? Uneasiness slithered up his spine, as he clutched Indie tighter and gave the Sheriff a casual head nod. Sheriff kicked off the bar and started walking toward him.
Cash stopped dancing, frozen on the spot.
“Cash ____you’re under arrest for the theft of 17 head of horses from the Rocco ranch.”
Indie had stilled in his arms, and gone pale. She trembled, but that wasn’t what got him. What made Cash panic was that she looked at him, briefly muttered, “How did he find me?” and then took off.
She took off.
Cash tried to grab her, but only clutched at air before July clamped a cuff around his wrist. “You have the right to remain silent.”
Cash looked around frantically, but Indie had totally disappeared.
Ridge had disappeared too.
Then familiar faces came into view, and relief flowed through his veins. Short-lived, but if anybody could find her, he had faith in Evan and Jordan.
They had just gotten to the bar, and even though Evan was working, she was looking forward to some time away from his mother. She was super sweet, but a bit overprotective, clearly not having a clue what her boys did for a living. Her coddling was funny and cute at first, but she felt like she was overstaying her welcome. A little too much together time, honestly.
She was ready to cut loose and have some fun. Mia seemed to be on the same page.
But when they walked into the bar, the first thing they saw was Cash being arrested and Indie was nowhere to be seen. She craned her neck to try to see over the crowd, but it was to no avail. She couldn’t see anything around the commotion.
“Indie’s gone!” The police officer was trying to read Cash his rights, but Cash was frantic. “She was just here, but she’d disappeared. I don’t know where she went!”
“If you cannot afford an attorney … “
Cash turned to the guy wearing a sheriff’s badge. “I get it, dipshit. I didn’t have a damn thing to do with this and you know it.”
A weird crawling sensation started in her tummy and Paige looked to Mia to see the woman with an alarmed look on her face. They were supposed to be protecting Indie and she’d disappeared. Paige knew the girl wasn’t happy, but things seemed to have gotten better since they’d been here.
Evan tugged her arm to get her attention. “I don’t like this.”
“No shit.” She rolled her eyes, but listened to him anyway.
“You and Mia follow Cash to the police station and keep an eye on him there. You won’t be able to post bail yet, but see if there’s anything to do. Me and Jordan will find Indie. Meet back at the house?” He turned to Cash. “Can you give me your car keys?”
“Brought my bike.” The Sheriff was still intoning the Miranda bullshit and seeming to get some pleasure out of it. “Dahlia? Your mama still run that taxi service out of her van?” This got the Sheriff to look at someone else.
“I told her to stop that shit,” July grumbled at a woman cradling a tray across her chest.
“Yeah, but you couldn’t give her a good enough reason besides you needed a blow job for her to stay in business, so I’m pretty sure she’s available.” July’s face turned beet red and he started spluttering. “Mama!”
An older woman appeared, who seemed to look a lot like the waitress, waving a set of car keys. “Where we heading?”
Christine Shores was a handful. She talked the entire way to the police station, which was in town, about ten miles away from the bar.
“Livingston July won the election with his smarmy smile and those veneers he has, but I’ll be damned if that didn’t cover up an epic slimeball. Cash is a good boy. There’s no way he’s been stealing all those horses out on the ridge. I had in mind he’d marry my Dahlia, get her on the straight and narrow, but apparently he’s got eyes for someone else. I just hope she deserves him. There’s no telling what goes on under the surface of people, though. Y’all gonna break him out? Cash?”
“That’s not the plan,” Paige answered, while Mia said,
She looked at Mia, who simply shrugged.
Evan was going to kill them.
When Christine’s beat-up minivan pulled up to the station, she called back to where they sat, “No charge. Cash’s a good boy.”
They got out, and Paige started for the door, but Mia pulled her back. “I have an idea.”
“Oh god. What?” Paige had a plan, too. Sit and wait for instructions from the police on what to do for Cash and then go back to the house and wait for Evan. Just like he’d said.
“You don’t think he did this, do you?” Of course not. Paige shook her head. “Okay, then here’s what we’re going to do.”
Five minutes later, Paige was at the front desk, where a bored man sat, looking seconds away from retirement.
“Cash ____ He’s here?”
“Yup. Sheriff put him in an interrogation room and said to let him stew. He’d be back for him.” The silver haired man jerked his thumb at a door behind him never taking his eyes off Paige.
“He’s not arrested?”
“No ma’am. We’re exercising our prerogative to hold him for 48 hours, if necessary, before booking him.” So the guy read him Miranda rights in a crowded bar for show. What a douchebag.
“When can I take him home? How does this work?” Paige put the most distressed look on her face, playing innocent. There was no way this was a legal process at the moment. She wasn’t sure if this officer was in on it or not, but she wasn’t taking chances she’d get herself “arrested” as well.
At that moment, Mia came rushing in, her shirt torn and off one shoulder, her makeup smeared, and an alarming looking bruise forming on her cheek.
That was gonna piss someone off.
“Help! My boyfriend just beat me up. I fought him off, and I think he’s unconscious, but I go there as fast as I could. You’ve got to help me. Please.”
The officer was up and around his desk before she finished talking, taking her elbow.
“What happened? Can you show me?”
“Yes!” Mia started dragging the officer out of the station. He looked at Paige, obviously torn, and Pagie made to sit down in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs.
“It’s okay. I’ll wait. Take care of her.”
With a grateful look, the man was ambling after an agitated Mia, and out the door.
Paige couldn’t believe that worked. She had until Mia got the officer around the corner and down the block before her boyfriend suddenly “disappeared” and they came back for her to get Cash out. Paige raced around the desk and started looking for keys.
When she found a ring full of keys in a drawer, she raced to the door that the officer had motioned to, only to fumble with the keys for what seemed like an hour before one finally fit.
“Cash?” He was sitting at a table with his head in his hands.
“Did you find her?”
“Evan’s working on it. Let’s go.”
He stood, and Paige got impatient.
“Let’s go, hot stuff. Breaking you out isn’t exactly something I want on my resume, you know?” Tugging on his arm, she led the way back to the front of the station and into the van at the end of the block opposite where Mia was supposed to take the officer. She could hear her friend’s wails.
Girl had taken up the wrong career. Paige chuckled to herself.
“Ms. Shore,” Cash acknowledged as he got in and Paige pushed him down out of sight.
Jordan was out of breath as he followed his brother, pushing and shoving past people out the door to the back of the bar. It was another parking lot, presumably for staff, and a field. All empty except one big dude who turned to them as soon as they banged out the door.
“Shit,” Evan muttered.
“Yeah, shit. Any ideas?” Jordan asked his brother, the man who always had a plan when he was in front of his computer. This? Not much. Jordan was the muscle of the two, for sure, and was glad he carried his side arm at the moment, not that he knew who the fuck to shoot, if anyone.
“Not good ones.” His thoughts exactly. Indie was attached to Cash at the hip. It would have taken something major to make her separate herself, and the only major thing Jordan could think of was still in Austin.
Evan stiffened next to him, and Jordan’s body went on high alert as he noticed what had Evan stiffening.
Big dude was coming closer.
“You guys the Rocco’s?”
“Who’s asking?” Jordan puffed up his chest, throwing out all the Marine vibes he could. He wasn’t a slouch in a street fight, but this guy was fucking massive.
“I’m Ridge, friend of Cash’s. Indie came out here, but I missed who took her.”
“Someone took her?”
Ridge shrugged. “Someone’s been asking around about her. Stupid looking old dude, driving a beat to hell El Camino. Puke green. Says she’s his daughter, and you kidnapped her. But he’s lying about that, and he’s creeped out everybody he’s talked to, so …” He let his words sink in while Evan pulled out his cell phone.
“This the guy?” Evan shoved his phone at Ridge, who nodded.
“Yup. She’s in trouble isn’t she?”
“Yes. Any ideas where he is?”
“There’s one motel in town. He’s probably staying there. But he’s been talking to the Sheriff too, and he’s got a place out about twenty miles that way.” Ridge jerked his thumb over his shoulder, to the north of where they stood.
“Okay. Sheriff wouldn’t shit where he fished, would he?” Jordan’s jaw dropped at Evan’s euphemism.
“Dude what the fuck does that even mean?”
“Sorry. I’m stressed. July’s a sheriff. Would he let a kidnapped woman be held in his home?”
The words sank in to Jordan’s psyche. Kidnapped. Indie had been kidnapped from right under their noses.
“Okay, where’s this motel?”
Indie couldn’t feel anything besides a massive pain in her head. It throbbed so hard, she felt like it was about to explode, the pain so bad she was sure she was going to vomit. Realizing she had been unconscious, her last coherent thought that she had to get away from the bar before Ron got to her. She had banged out the back door by the restrooms, hoping there would be an escape, but that was the last thing she could remember.
So he must have her. She was terrified to open her eyes and see where she was, the stale smoke smell and cheap disinfectant giving her plenty of clues. Something scratchy was at her back as well, and she was laying on something spongey. The air was damp and musty, like the motel room had been shut up for too long.
That’s where she was. A motel room. She could tell without even opening her eyes. But if she opened her eyes and saw, it would be too real. So she squeezed them shut.
“I see you faking. Go ahead, honey. Open up those pretty green eyes.”
Indie turned her head to the side and vomited. Her coke was acidic bile, the carbonation burning her throat, yet a comforting relief she was alive and now disgusting. Maybe he wouldn’t touch her now. She managed to rub enough of the vomit onto her face, turning it back and forth in the mattress, to satisfy herself she was too gross to rape now.
“I’m sorry babe.”
Her stomach rebelled at his voice. His words. Her stomach now empty, it continued it’s retching, as if that would help. She couldn’t stop it. The noises she was making were repulsive, and as she opened her eyes, she realized nothing was working.
She was tied, spread-eagled to a bed, thankfully clothed. The other man that had been with Ron in the bar stood between her feet with a wicked gleam in his eyes and a giant knife in his hand.
Indie was fucked.
Her eyes chased around the room, looking for anything that would get her out of this mess. Ron sat at a table near the window, peeking between the curtains occasionally, with pills and a baggie of powder spread before him.
“Really. I am sorry. I couldn’t think of another way to do this. To get you back. To tell you how sorry I am.”
She was going to scream. She couldn’t hear those words come out of his mouth again. There was no way. She’d fucking lose her mind.
She settled her gaze on the other guy, looking for clues to his identity. Maybe he could get her out of here. Then she saw it. Focusing on the shiny badge he wore, she realized she was well and truly done for.
“You’re police?” Her voice was raw, unused. She wondered how long she’d been out. “What the fuck happened? Why are you here?”
She knew he wouldn’t give her a satisfactory answer, but if he was talking, he wasn’t doing the bad things that were going on behind his eyes. It was a reprieve.
“Sheriff July knew how to find you, and so I’m giving him a little bit. Once he saw you, he was eager, and it wasn’t hard. I had to bring you back home.”
“Well, as soon as I saw you, I sweetened the pot. Ron here was about to bring down the entire bar to get you. You must taste better than you look to make a man do all that. But Ronnie here isn’t hard to convince. All it took was a little horse, a few pills, and he couldn’t say no.” The sheriff grabbed her ankle and squeezed hard enough it hurt, exercising his massive power by engulfing her slim ankle and tugging against the rope restraining her.
Indie cried out.
“You said you weren’t gonna hurt her.” Ron stood, then fell back in his chair.
“You traded me for drugs?” Indie couldn’t fucking believe it.
“I’m sorry. It’s just one night, and I’ll be right here the whole time. It’ll be alright.”
He’d said the words. She was done. Indie started screaming.
“It’s not alright! You traded me to the town fucking Sheriff for drugs! I’m not your whore! I’m not yours at all! I can’t believe this, you asshole.” Tears mingled with the vomit on her face and she hated everything about all of this.
Then she remembered what had happened in the bar the same time she’d seen Ron.
“You arrested Cash, didn’t you? To get him out of the way? You knew he didn’t steal those horses.”
“Of course he didn’t. That’s me. But now I’ve got my red herring, and he’ll distract everyone from the investigation while I finish my operation.”
“What the hell do you do wiith them?”
He laughed then, his hand sliding up her leg from her ankle to the crotch of her shorts.
“Don’t worry about it babe. Let’s see what you’ve got here.”
Indie screamed bloody murder, and the sheriff laughed. “Go ahead. The couple that runs this place takes their hearing aids out at night. Bad for roadside travelers, looking for a place to stay, since they can’t hear the bell. But pretty sweet for me.”
Another scream bubbled in her throat, but she saw the futility. The itching in her arms started up. This time, more than a tingle, it was a full on skin-twitching need to flay back layers of her skin and get the putridness out of her body.
Memories of Cash’s beautiful actions were just that. Memories, swallowed up whole by the musty hotel room. There wasn’t enough disinfectant in the world to combat what was happening right now.
Indie closed her eyes, tears streaking out from under the lids, and let out a quiet whimper.
And then a loud crash had her jerking her eyes open.
And Jordan stood there. Indie didn’t know she’d tensed every muscle in her body up until she relaxed at the sight of Jordan coming into that foul smelling room, gun drawn, with Evan behind him.
Cash had been relieved to see Paige at the police station. Something was off about the Sheriff just arresting him and then leaving him alone in a room, but as far as Cash knew, it was some sort of ploy that he used a lot with suspected criminals.
But something in his eyes had been all fucking wrong. There was an eagerness there, in addition to a dark malice. Coupled with the fact Indie had disappeared, it led to a full-on panic inside Cash. But locked in an interrogation room, he couldn’t do shit.
The relief had morphed into something deeper when, in Christine’s van, Paige had gotten a phone call to bring Cash to the Sea Breeze Motel on the edge of town, where they thought Indie was.
The parking lot of the motel was dark, but Cash saw Evan and Jordan huddled around in a circle with Ridge, and something wonderful filled him. Ridge was his brother, of course he would be a part of this. The set of Evan and Jordan’s shoulders was all business, which should have scared Cash. He’d seen that shoulder set, overseas, with his superiors.
These guys were working. Mrs. Rocco thought they found peoples’ lost belongings or something, but as soon as he’d met them, he’d known they were badasses and probably found people, not their stuff.
Probably used force, too.
And they looked ready to do that right now. Cash jogged over to them, quietly, and sidled up next to Ridge.
“We got a plan?” He whispered.
“Yep.” Jordan answered. “You two stay out here until we give the all clear.” Jordan turned to Cash, looking him square in the eyes. “Dude. I know what you’re going through right now. I promise you we’ll get her out. Me and Evan have worked together for years. We got this. Can’t add a new guy to the mix when it matters this much. Not without training together first. Yeah? You feel me?”
It made sense, but Cash needed to see she was okay. Still, he had enough sense to know if he went in there as hot as he felt right now, he’d fuck up whatever play the Rocco brothers had.
Cash swallowed and nodded. “Ridge won’t let me go in.” He looked to his buddy, who nodded.
“If that’s what you want.”
“No, I fucking want to go in there, but I know he’s right. Don’t let me until they say.”
Jordan and Evan nodded, then Jordan spoke. “I’ve got a story to tell you when this is over. I promise I understand.” Then he clapped Cash on the back and he and Evan walked to a door of the motel.
A puke green El Camino was parked out front of it, and Cash and Ridge stayed by the car while Evan and Jordan busted down the fucking door. It was surreal, guns drawn, kicking doors in his tiny hometown like they were in overseas, but it was happening, and his Indie was inside.
He couldn’t take his eyes of the interior of the room, what little he could see. He made a move to get closer, but Ridge held him back by the elbow. Ridge was grounding him right now, but he could hear Jordan’s voice as he yelled for someone to go over somewhere, next to somebody else.
Some part of Cash’s brain took in the El Camino’s interior. It was a mess. Fast food wrappers, soda cans, beer bottles, an open package of baby wipes spread everywhere. This was a car that had been on a road trip. A long one.
Some part of his brain felt like it was important to log this, but another, bigger part, was waiting for Evan to say his next words.
“Cash, get in here.” And then an excited cry. Indie.
The noise ripped at his gut, even as he ran to the room. The uncoherent yell was one of relief, frustration, and disbelief. He needed to see her with his own eyes and know she was okay.
But when he saw her, he saw she was a far cry from okay.
Ridge had followed him into the room, where Indie was tied to a bed, the top half of her body covered in vomit. But that wasn’t what struck him hardest. It was the vacant look in her eyes.
The look she’d had when he’d stumbled on her getting ready to cut herself.
He quickly took stock, and pulled out his pocket knife to cut her bonds. Ridge went to the men in the corner of the room, and while Jordan and Evan held guns on Sheriff July and some random man, Ridge was bundling them up in zip ties.
Which gave him unimpeded access to getting Indie the hell out of this room.
Her body went lax as one limb after another, he cut through the ropes binding her. As soon as he got two legs and an arm, she rolled off the bed, almost desperately. He knew how she felt about beds, and he was getting a giant suspicion this man was the reason why.
“I’ve got you, Indie.” He covered her body with his as he cut the last rope and then scooped her up into his arms. “Let’s get out of here, ‘kay?”
“Wait.” Her eyes were focused on the man in the corner, the older one who was dirty and a complete stranger to Cash. “Put me down a minute, please.” Her voice came from far away, but he complied, letting her down gently.
Her hand ran down his arm from his elbow to the knife in his hand. It was some weird out-of-body thing that gripped him, allowing her to take the knife from him.
“You son of a bitch.” Her words were gaining in strength as she took a step toward him.
“Go ahead and tell me now, how sorry you are.”
Another step and she was close to him. Cash took a step closer, even though everyone else in the room was in the same damn corner. She was pushing past Jordan, who was still stiff and alert. Pushing past Ridge, who had no idea what was going on.
The knife came out, and the stranger pushed his head back against the wall to get away from her, but Evan was holding his wrists in the plastic cuffs and he couldn’t move.
Which seemed to suit her needs.
She slashed the knife down one cheek.
“Still sorry, Ron?”
The other cheek.
Blood oozed over his face. “That’s what I’ve been dreaming about. Making your filth escape your body through the blood. But there’s too much filth and not enough blood for your fucking apologies. You traded me to him for drugs.”
She started to cut him again, but Evan stopped her. No more words were spoken, and when she turned her head to Cash again, she said, “Take me away, please.”
Indie was trembling so hard, it was almost difficult to get a grip on her, and as light as she was, he struggled to get her out of the room. He chose to take her out of sight of the El Camino and all its evidence of a single minded focus on tracking her across the country.
Mia saw them walking across the parking lot and motioned for him to bring her to the elder Mr. Rocco’s truck, where he sat her in the back seat.
“Indie?” Her eyes were open, but so so vacant. There was nobody home. She had checked out, and he was scared. He’d seen this overseas, but had a decidedly funny feeling about seeing it on his girl. “Do you need a hospital? Were you drugged with something?” The horror in his voice was clear. But she shook her head no.
“No. No drugs. Away from here. Please?”
She was shell-shocked, even though there were no bullets fired, no explosions, no IEDs, nothing but her memories and whatever had happened inside that room.
Cash crawled into the backseat of the truck, cradling Indie in his arms. Mia climbed into the driver’s seat.
“She wants to get away from here. Will she be okay at the bunkhouse, or will I scare her?”
“I’ll go in with you and help. This is so damn familiar to me.”
Cash somehow knew that. After what Jordan told him outside the motel, he figured this was a similar situation to something they’d been through. He was thankful for any help with Indie he could get. He knew what he wanted to do with her, but wasn’t sure if it would actually help. And he wanted to help more.
He wanted to bundle her up next to his body and let her sleep for as long as she needed to, but was afraid his big limbs wrapped around her tiny frame would scare her if she woke up that way.
As it was, she was sleeping now, in his lap, and he cradled her loosely in his arms. Not nearly as tight as he wanted to.
The ranch was about twenty minutes away, and Mia filled the silence with a story that scared the hell out of Cash. It was the story of a young girl—Mia—who had a neighbor—Jordan—who saved her from a psycho, and fell in love with her in the process. It took the girl a lot longer to see the man loved her—that the scars of her attack made her beautiful, because she couldn’t love herself.
But the man had been patient. Had taken care of her. And in the end, she had understood. And loved him back.
“So basically, Cash. What she’s been through, and I don’t know all of it, but it’s created who she is, and why she can’t love you the way you want her to right now. But she is capable. Just be patient. Love her and be patient.”
Patience he had. Time was something he didn’t have. In a week she was going back to Austin, and would be lost to him. He had a week to spend with her, and it was supposed to be fun-filled sexy times. But then that asshole had ruined it.
Had traded her to Sheriff July for drugs. He hoped like hell that the Rocco boys were taking care of that bullshit. He never wanted to see the sheriff again.
She’d been dressed when they’d busted down the door so hopefully they hadn’t had a chance to do whatever it was they’d had planned.
It was painfully obvious that whatever had happened in that motel room had taken Indie back where she was when she’d gotten here.
He didn’t know what to do. He had no idea if his advance/retreat moves would work anymore. And now it wasn’t just for fun. Indie mattered to him more than anyone else in the world. More than his mom. More than Ridge.
He wanted to the right thing, but had zero clue what the right thing was. He wanted to make her better, come out of this shell, see him again.
Patience, Mia had said.
He sighed and stroked Indie’s arm. Her arm she cut to hurt herself for whatever this guy had done to her.
At the bunkhouse, Cash and Mia got Indie showered and into a pair of Cash’s shorts and a t-shirt, and made a pallet on the floor after Cash explained she didn’t like squeaky beds. Then he wrapped her in his arms and watched her sleep for what was left of the night.