Mastered, p.19
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       Mastered, p.19
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         Part #1 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks
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  Zander groaned. “Drake’s a lucky bastard. I hope he knows that.”

  “I hope so too,” Evangeline murmured, low enough for Zander not to hear.

  Judging by the arched brow and curious look sent her way, she hadn’t been that fortunate.

  “Oh, he knows,” Zander said softly. “Don’t ever think otherwise, Evangeline. If you think he’s this way with other women, you’re wrong. You’re special to him, even if you haven’t realized it yet.”

  She wasn’t at all sure what to make of that statement, so she let it go as they began the short walk to the restaurant.

  As Justice had told her, when Evangeline and Zander arrived at the restaurant, though it wasn’t yet open for lunch hours, they were immediately let in and led back to the kitchen, where they were met by a middle-aged man she assumed was the chef.

  He smiled when he saw her and enfolded her hand between both of his.

  “Justice tells me you enjoyed my steak the other day.”

  “It was the most wonderful steak I’ve ever had,” Evangeline said honestly. “I wanted to cook it for dinner tonight but haven’t been able to find it anywhere.”

  The chef went over to the counter where a butcher-wrapped package lay out, and then he wrapped it in plastic wrap so it wouldn’t leak and handed it to Evangeline.

  “The secret is in not undercooking it,” he explained. “These steaks are heavily marbled, so if a person normally eats their steak rare, I would suggest cooking them medium rare. But don’t overcook them either. You want the fat to dissolve just enough and to be warm all the way through. If they aren’t cooked enough, you end up with jellylike consistency from the marbling instead of the juicy succulence you should experience. Overcook it and, well, you have a burned mess that has none of the wonderful taste that it should.”

  “Thank you so much,” Evangeline said, smiling radiantly at the kind older man. “I have no doubt dinner will be a wonderful success thanks to your generosity and expert advice. How much do I owe you for the meat?”

  The chef blinked and immediately looked discomfited. Zander smoothly inserted himself and said, “Drake has an account with the restaurant. He’ll be billed. You don’t need to worry about it.”

  People had accounts with restaurants? For that matter they had relationships with the chefs that made it possible to get what was no doubt proprietary meat from the chef to cook at home?

  The more she saw into Drake’s world, the more aware she was of just how clueless she was when it came to having money and connections. It all sounded like something out of a ridiculous movie. Not real life and definitely not her life.

  Then she surprised the already bewildered chef by impulsively hugging him.

  “Thank you for doing this for me. I have no doubt dinner will be superb tonight, thanks to you, and rest assured you’ll get the credit for providing such an amazing meal.”

  The older man flushed. “It was my pleasure, Miss Hawthorn, though from what I hear of your culinary expertise, I’d take you on and put you to work in my kitchen any day of the week, although I’d probably fast be out of a job.”

  It was her turn to blush, and she wondered how on earth this man knew anything about her cooking.

  “I won’t keep you any longer,” Evangeline said. “I need to get home so none of what I’ve purchased is spoiled. Thank you again.”

  Zander herded her from the kitchen and out of the restaurant, where once more she blinked and squinted at the bright autumn sun.

  “You need a pair of damn sunglasses,” Zander muttered.

  She shot him a strange look and then shook her head. But as they headed down the sidewalk, Zander stopped at a name-brand boutique and dragged her inside, where he proceeded to make her pick out a pair of outrageously expensive designer sunglasses that horrified her once she saw the price tag.

  She mutinously shook her head, refusing to even consider buying such an extravagance. He merely ignored her and since she wouldn’t make a choice, he chose the two he thought looked the best on her and just gave her a look she was becoming well acquainted with since it was one Drake and all his men wore like a second skin. The one that said, You won’t change my mind.

  After he paid for them, he plucked a pair and slid them on Evangeline’s nose, adjusting them to his liking before they stepped from the shop. He seemed rather pleased with himself and Evangeline didn’t have the heart to put a damper on his mood, so she kept her thoughts of the ridiculousness of paying hundreds of dollars for a pair of sunglasses to herself. A five-dollar pair from a grocery store or pharmacy would have certainly sufficed.

  But what she wore was a reflection on Drake, and she doubted he would be pleased to see her wearing anything but what he considered the best.

  And it was because of her exasperation and her inattention to her surroundings that she tripped as they headed down the sidewalk and went sprawling before Zander could catch her. The impact of hitting the concrete took her breath away as Zander’s colorful curses filled the air.

  “Jesus Christ, Evangeline, are you all right?”

  His concerned face filled her vision as he gently turned her to look at her. She reached up, worried she’d broken her sunglasses and when, in fact, they came away in two pieces, she nearly burst into tears.

  “I broke them,” she said tearfully.

  “Fuck the sunglasses,” he said, fury lacing his words. “I’m more concerned whether you broke anything on you. Can you get up? Do you hurt anywhere?”

  She let him help her up, wincing when she stretched her leg to its full length.

  “Just my knee,” she said. “I think I just scraped it. God, I’m so sorry. I’m so clumsy.”

  Zander bent right there in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing her to hold on to his shoulder for support as he examined the tear in her jeans and moved the material right and left so he could assess the damage.

  “You’re bleeding,” he said grimly. “I can’t fucking see well enough to know how deep the laceration is or if you’ll need stitches. I need to call Drake.”

  “No!” she burst out. “For God’s sake, Zander. I scraped my knee. The world isn’t ending. Drake does not need to be disturbed at work because I’m an idiot who fell and scraped her knee. He has a very busy day and said he had several meetings and that he’d be late arriving home. I don’t want to disrupt his schedule over something so insignificant.”

  Zander frowned, having no liking for her response. He knew Drake well enough to know that if Evangeline was involved and especially if she was hurt, he wouldn’t give a fuck about some goddamn meeting. But she looked like she was on the verge of a complete meltdown, and given that she’d already been on the receiving end of a pissed-off Drake this morning, he could well imagine why she wouldn’t want to risk provoking his anger again even though Zander knew damn well Drake would be anything but pissed.

  “Zander, please,” she begged. “This is embarrassing enough without involving Drake.”

  His expression softened and then he shook his head before picking his phone up. To Evangeline’s dismay, he seemed to have not been moved by her entreaty.

  “Yeah, Zander here. I need you to come get me and Evangeline and have Drake’s doctor on standby. I’m taking her to get checked out.”

  There was a long pause.

  “No. She doesn’t want Drake to know. She just took a fall. Her knee hurts but I can’t exactly examine it in the middle of a fucking public sidewalk. Just get here.”

  After Zander gave whoever he was talking to his and Evangeline’s location, Zander ended the call and then gathered the bags he’d dropped when Evangeline fell. Then he curled his huge tattooed arm around her waist.

  “Lean on me and try not to put much weight on your hurt leg,” he said. “We need to get somewhere you don’t get knocked over by some asshole pedestrian in a hurry. Preferably somewhere you can sit so you aren’t putting any strain on that knee.”

  He all but carried her and the bags a short distance away
under the awning of a restaurant and settled her into a bench intended for waiting customers. When the woman manning the door would have protested them sitting, Zander sent her a ferocious glare that promptly had her shutting her mouth and retreating hastily to her post.

  “Who did you call?” Evangeline asked.

  “Justice. He’s not far or he would have called someone who was closer than he was to come get you.”

  “Is a visit to the doctor really necessary?” Evangeline asked with a frown. “We should just go home. I can doctor it myself. It’s not serious. It doesn’t even hurt that much anymore.”

  “We are going home,” Zander said calmly. “Drake’s personal physician has a clinic on the second level of Drake’s building. He has a practice, but his primary job is to see to Drake and Drake’s employees’ needs. And believe me, we’re a full-time job,” he added with a grin.

  But Evangeline didn’t return his smile. Her brow furrowed in thought over what Zander had told her. Drake required a personal physician? As in one who looked after the needs of him and his men? Were their jobs that dangerous? For that matter, she had yet to figure out precisely what Drake and his men did for a living. Surely owning a nightclub didn’t command the kind of wealth Drake and his men possessed and certainly wouldn’t be cause to have a personal doctor to patch someone up on a regular basis.

  She felt faintly ill, wondering just what she had gotten herself into and if she was already in way over her head.

  “How bad are you hurting?” Zander asked bluntly.

  She looked up at him, squinting when her gaze met the sun beyond Zander’s broad shoulders. He frowned and dug out the other pair of sunglasses and promptly perched them atop Evangeline’s nose.

  “It just stings a bit. You’re completely overreacting,” she muttered. “One would think I got shot.”

  Zander wasn’t amused, and it was the fact that his expression became as grim as it did that made her wonder if being shot was a possibility. Was her coming to harm why Drake was so overzealous when it came to her having protection any time she left the apartment?

  If she thought for a minute she’d actually get an answer, she’d ask Zander just that question, but she knew he’d bite off his tongue before ever telling her anything. So she sighed and resigned herself to a visit to the doctor.

  She was surprised when only five minutes later, a sleek car she didn’t recognize the insignia for pulled up, and to her further surprise, not only did Justice step from the car but so did Silas.

  And it would appear Silas’s presence came as a surprise to Zander as well, judging by his reaction.

  Justice shrugged as they neared where Evangeline still sat on the bench.

  “Silas was with me and when he heard what went down, he said he was coming.”

  Unspoken was that no one ever likely refused Silas anything.

  “I just hope to hell he doesn’t scare the shit out of her,” Zander muttered so only Justice could hear.

  Evangeline immediately bristled and shot upward, wincing as her knee protested the sudden and unexpected movement. She pointed her finger at Zander. “To date, you are the only one who has frightened me. Not to mention how rude you were. And you dare to suggest that a man who has impeccable manners and who made considerable effort to ease my embarrassment after I dumped a cupcake all over his pants—which was your fault, by the way—would somehow frighten me? Quite frankly, I’m better off with him.”

  Silas stood staring at Evangeline as though she were an alien, surprise written clearly on his features. And then he simply walked to where she was shakily standing and put one arm around her.

  “How much does it pain you?” he asked quietly.

  “Enough,” Evangeline muttered. “I just want to go home. It’s not that bad and it certainly doesn’t warrant a visit to Drake’s doctor who also conveniently has a practice in Drake’s building. Hell, Drake probably owns the entire building.”

  “He does,” Silas said in his somber voice.

  Evangeline closed her eyes. She shouldn’t have gone there. It was her own fault for opening herself up for that.

  Silas squeezed her, giving her silent reassurance. She wasn’t so sure why the others seemed to have a healthy fear of and respect for this man. Well, the respect he had no doubt earned, and it was owed. But the fear she didn’t understand, nor did she understand why they would think she would be afraid of him when he’d been nothing but gentle, kind and compassionate with her.

  And because she was thinking those things and because whatever she thought always seemed to make its way out of her mouth, she put it out there before she could think better of it.

  “W-would you go with me to the doctor?” she whispered so the others wouldn’t hear. “Zander seems to think you frighten me, but truthfully he scares me more than any of the others, and I would feel more comfortable, if I must go see this doctor, if you were with me instead of him.”

  Silas went completely rigid, and she realized she’d just made a huge mistake. Damn her and her propensity for saying what was on her mind. She needed a gag stuffed into her mouth on a permanent basis.

  “I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “I’ve already interrupted your day with what is not anything remotely resembling a serious accident. I really should just go back to Drake’s apartment and clean it up. Band-Aids are miracle cures, you know.”

  “It would make me very unhappy to ever know that a woman like you ever feared me,” Silas said, as sincerely as she had spoken. “The fact that you don’t fear me and in fact defend me to the others raises you in my esteem considerably. If having me with you makes you more comfortable, then I’ll go. No further explanations are warranted or necessary. Now, I’m going to help you to the car. Zander can get back to the apartment with your bags on his own dime while Justice and I take you to the clinic.”

  “You aren’t a bad person, Silas,” she whispered. “In fact, I think you are a perfect gentleman. You’ll never persuade me otherwise.”

  A shadow fell over his eyes before he blinked it away, but in that shadow she saw past pain, memories, things that had shaped the man he was now. And then just because it seemed like the right thing to do, she hugged him, trapping his much larger frame against her smaller one, and squeezed hard.

  “Thank you for coming so quickly. I’d rather Drake not know about this, but if we don’t get moving, the dinner I’m supposed to prepare won’t get done on time and I don’t want Drake to be even more unhappy with me than he already is.”

  Silas frowned. “I’m sure he will be more than understanding if you don’t cook dinner at all, considering you injured your knee and who knows what else in your fall.”

  Evangeline shook her head. “I don’t even want him to know about this. Any of it. The day already started all wrong, and this will just ruin the entire evening. Can we just go and get it over with?”

  In response, Silas merely picked her up, cradling her in his arms, and then ducked into the backseat of the car. Once he was settled, with her still on his lap, he put a pillow beneath the knee she’d injured and urged her to relax, saying that they were only a few minutes from Drake’s apartment.

  Evangeline sighed. Welcome to Drake’s world should read more like Welcome to Drake’s insane world where nothing makes sense.

  Because there was nothing normal about being sprawled on the lap of a man who obviously inspired fear in others while being rushed to a private clinic, owned by Drake, an enormously wealthy and extremely secretive, mysterious man who now, according to him—and, well, acknowledged by her—owned her.

  Crazy. It was the only word to describe her previously boring, uneventful, predictably dull existence.

  Things like this just didn’t happen to ordinary girls from small towns like the one she grew up in. Only it was happening, and it was all too real for her comfort level.

  To Dr. McInnis’s credit, he seemed to pick up on Evangeline’s distress and agitation, though her constant muttering of this not being neces
sary probably clued him in more than anything.

  He gave her a reassuring smile and told her he would have her in and out in no time at all and not to worry. But when he’d said she really needed a few sutures because the cut was quite deep and she risked infection if it was left open to bacteria, germs and God only knew what else, her anxiety soared.

  It was Silas who calmed her down and said matter-of-factly that she was holding up the process. That if she were to simply relax and allow the doctor to do what he felt was necessary—and he was the doctor, after all—she could have already been finished and back to Drake’s apartment.

  She reached for his hand, more for her comfort than anything else, but she offered a grateful squeeze, wondering why she seemed to be the only one to see past this man’s rigid exterior to the kind and gentle man underneath the outward facade. It was one likely perfected out of necessity. She sensed that about all of Drake’s men. That perhaps none of them had come from the best backgrounds and that they’d all likely scratched and clawed their way to success, earning every bit of the money and respect they commanded. They were certainly an odd group, ranging from the polish of Drake and the smooth words he always seemed to possess to the more crudely built and street-smart men like Zander and well, Justice. Just in a different way. Silas was a mysterious combination of Drake’s polish and expensive manner of dress but with the edge Zander and some of the others possessed. But the one trait they all had in common was their don’t-give-a-fuck-what-others-think attitude.

  She had no doubt that while Silas had been nothing but patient and kind to her, he wasn’t that way with many other people. She’d seen the hint of coldness in his eyes. And pain. Though she doubted he realized she’d picked up on it and would not be pleased to know she had.

  But she was a people watcher. For girls like her, watching was as close to the lifestyles of others as she got, and she enjoyed a certain vicariousness of experiencing their worlds through watching them. As a result, she often saw far more than the average person looking on. She studied people, watched when they were unaware of being observed. It was at these times that most people allowed what they hid on a regular basis to slip and be more readily revealed.

  It was presumptuous of her to think she knew anything about Silas or his past or his raisons d’etre. But she sensed an inner torment that went as far back as his childhood, and weren’t most people shaped by their childhood? Their family or lack thereof, defenses learned early and the ability to shut others out and erect shields in order to survive.

  She considered herself to be the person she was because of her upbringing, her parents’ unconditional love and support and their constant guidance. Their convictions that they’d passed on to Evangeline. Her parents were good people. The best. She was one of the lucky ones, unlike Silas and, she imagined, the majority of Drake’s men, if not Drake himself.

  He was an aloof man who hid a passionate fire inside him. He felt strongly about what he considered his own personal code. She didn’t need a primer to know that. One only had to look at the man to figure out his past had more than likely shaped the man he’d become today. A man she was hopelessly attracted to and helpless to resist, even when her mind, or rather sanity, questioned her motives and her decisions and quite frequently demanded to know if she’d lost her ever-loving mind to have plunged so recklessly, without forethought or careful consideration, into such an extreme relationship with a man she barely knew.

  And yet, even as she knew she had a long way to go before she would even scratch the surface of this complicated, mysterious man, she felt an eagerness and yes, a sense of challenge, to peel back layer after layer until she reached the heart of him. Only then would she fully understand what made Drake the unyielding, uncompromising and very dominant alpha male he was. None of which she considered bad traits. Not when they expressed themselves in such delicious ways.

  Well, except she’d pissed him off and blatantly disobeyed him this morning and he hadn’t sounded pleased with her at all. She sucked in her bottom lip, nibbling nervously as she considered the consequences of her actions and what Drake’s response would be when he arrived home.

  While her cooking might distract the best of them, she doubted Drake would be deterred if he planned to address the issue of her disobedience, something he’d said he wouldn’t tolerate under any circumstances. And looking back, she knew that he was right and she’d been acting like a petulant, tantrum-throwing child out to prove a point by sulkily making the choice she had. She knew the rules. Knew them by heart. And Drake had been correct. All she had to do was pick up the phone and call him, tell him her wishes, and he more than likely would have been fine with it.

  Remembering something he’d written in his note just made her feel even guiltier. He’d told her to stay in and rest and to have his man take her shopping list out to get what she needed. His exact words had been, I was hard on my angel last night.

  She sighed. He’d merely been taking care of her and it had been sweet. And she’d been a complete bitch, taking it the wrong way and bristling over the ridiculous fact that she couldn’t even run to the market without a major security operation being launched.

  She owed Drake an apology. A sincere one and not something designed to tell him what she thought he wanted to hear in order to placate him.


  Silas’s worried tone cut into her silent reverie.

  “Are you hurting? He’s numbed the area, so you shouldn’t feel anything when he sets the sutures, but if you do, you are to let us know immediately.”

  The doctor looked up from where he was preparing to stitch her knee up, concern in his eyes. “I can give you a shot for pain. I plan to give you a shot of antibiotics and give you an ointment to apply three times a day. I don’t think an oral antibiotic is warranted in this case; however, if you notice any redness, tenderness or swelling in the area and especially if you feel unwell and are running even a slight temperature, I want you back here immediately so we can put you on antibiotics.”

  She offered a reassuring smile. “I’m fine. Truly. I don’t feel anything at all. I don’t need pain medication. I’m sure some ibuprofen will more than suffice if it hurts later. I was too busy thinking of all the mistakes I’ve made today to even register any discomfort in my knee. It kind of sucks when you realize you’ve been a sulky child, finding any ridiculous reason to be pissy.”

  She said the last with a sigh and her lips turned down into a frown.

  Silas’s frown was more of a scowl, surprising her, because for the first time there was none of the gentleness she’d come to associate him with.

  “Admittedly my acquaintance with you has been short, and we’ve not spent much time together, something I hope will be remedied when Drake loosens the leash he currently has you on.” Brief amusement replaced the scowl in his eyes, letting
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