Theirs to cherish, p.21
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.21
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         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 21

 

  “Fuck,” he muttered to himself and stepped on the gas, lurching the car into heavy traffic.

  ***

  TWO hours later, Thorpe had indigestion from a lousy piece of pizza he’d eaten while pounding the sidewalks. The two kink-oriented bars he knew were both half empty during the afternoon. It had taken forever to search the cavernous places. He’d seen some pretty girls with Callie’s height and build . . . but not the woman herself. Talon had greeted him at the Slip Knot with a drink in hand. Thorpe had declined the scotch and asked his friend to keep a lookout.

  Finally making his way outside, he pulled out his phone and called Sean. Voicemail picked up after a couple of rings, and he took a taxi back to the parking lot of the hotel where Sean had left Elijah’s vehicle. When he got there, the Jeep was empty. No Sean. No keys. Great. Now he either had to stand here and wait or pound the pavement more.

  As he pushed away from Elijah’s silver SUV, a realization hit him. Picking up his stride, he dialed Sean again, who picked up on the first ring.

  “Jesus, I just finished listening to your voicemail. A little patience. ”

  “I think I’ve got an idea. Where are you now?” Thorpe had no more than asked the question when he looked up to see Sean striding through the parking lot.

  They both hung up, and the fed looked at him with an expectant brow. Thorpe tried not to bristle.

  “We’re not being smart,” he told Sean.

  “Then enlighten me. What are we not doing right?”

  “Think about it. Callie drove to Logan for help, but he put her on a plane. She doesn’t have a car. ”

  “I see where you’re going with this. ” Sean’s eyes lit up with possibilities. “She won’t waste money taking a taxi to and from whatever job she’s managed to scrape together. And she would have had to lay her head someplace last night. ”

  Thorpe looked around the area with a look of horror. “Where the hell would she stay in this neighborhood?”

  “Not at a casino hotel. They’re too public and probably a bit expensive. She likes extended-stay hotels, especially ones that aren’t part of a chain,” Sean reminded him. “I know this area. I can think of a few off the top of my head. I’ve got an idea. Follow me. ”

  God, wherever she was, it was likely a dive, some motel that doubled as a rent-by-the-hour haven for local pimps. Thorpe gritted his teeth and followed after Sean. They walked the pavement until they came to the first place.

  The exterior was a faded pink. The sign advertised color TVs and air-conditioning as its big selling features. The tarred parking lot had long ago cracked and buckled under the heat of punishing Vegas summers. Iron railings overlooking droopy balconies were covered in rust. The swimming pool was an off-putting shade of blue-green.

  The old man behind the counter looked half asleep, and he couldn’t have cared less that he had customers. He barely lifted one eye away from the little TV. His jowls hung over his wrinkled hand as he glanced their way.

  “We’re looking for a missing person who might have checked in yesterday. She’s twenty-five and petite, with a fair complexion. Very pretty. May or may not have black hair and blue eyes. ”

  “Look, I rent rooms, not girls. Back in my day, I would have liked a broad like that, too, but I haven’t rented a room to anyone under fifty in at least two months. And I definitely haven’t had a dreamboat want to stay here. Can I get back to my show now? I’m missing Final Jeopardy. ”

  “Thanks for your time. If she comes by, can you please call this number?” Sean jotted his digits down on a sticky note that lay on the cluttered counter, then slid it toward the old man. “It’s urgent. ”

  “Sure. ” But he didn’t look away from his show, listening instead to Alex Trebek.

  Thorpe gritted his teeth as he and Sean exited. “That was a waste. ”

  “Maybe not. Callie might skip around for a while to confuse everyone on her trail. We’ll visit this old fart again in a few days if we haven’t found her. ”

  Trying not to be disheartened or give into exhaustion, he nodded. “Where to next?”

  Sean led the way to a handful of motels that advertised weekly or monthly rates. All dives he didn’t ever want to call home. All looked as if they’d had their heyday during the golden age of the Rat Pack. Both gave them similar speeches. No one new renting here who fit that description, yadda, yadda, yadda.

  “We need a plan C,” he told Sean.

  The other man sighed heavily and raked a hand through his dark waves. “We’re both exhausted. I’m famished. Let’s take a load off and talk this through. ”

  Food didn’t hold much appeal for Thorpe now, but he could use a cup of strong coffee.

  They made their way to a little greasy spoon. As long as they were there, they inquired about Callie. Of course, they came up empty-handed.

  “I still can’t figure out why someone military might be looking for her,” Sean said quietly once seated at a table in the corner.

  “I’m as lost there as you,” Thorpe vowed. “It barely makes sense to me that the FBI wants to keep tabs on her. I guess the fact that her father was a multibillionaire is noteworthy, but . . . ”

  “Why does the bureau care? Like I said, I don’t have any answers. And anyone in the military hunting her down seems way out in left field. ”

  “Exactly. I don’t see how she could have gotten mixed up with anything or anyone under my roof. Before you came, I watched Callie just about every moment of every day. And if I didn’t have eyes on her, Axel or one of his guys did. I did my best to protect her and keep her out of trouble. ”

  “You did. ” Sean sighed. “Let’s assume this pursuit has something to do with her family’s murders. They were carried out by professionals. You could almost say with military precision. ”

  That didn’t make Thorpe feel better. “Any chance they’re trying to protect her from something?”

  “Why wait nine years to even try?”

  Good question, one without a logical answer. “When you put it like that . . . ”

  “Let’s assume they’re after her and that they’re dangerous. I’m guessing they just now got a lead on her. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they have come after her at Dominion?”

  “But how the hell did they find her in Vegas before she’d even arrived?” Thorpe asked.

  “I’ve wondered that, too. ”

  “We don’t know how Logan got her onto the plane, but he’s a clever bastard. He could have somehow managed to bypass the security screening. Or maybe she used ID from a previous alias. ”

  “It’s possible that something at the airport alerted whoever is hunting Callie. But there’s another scenario. Tell me, how much can we really trust Logan?”

  “Implicitly. I’d vouch for him all day long. ” When Sean still didn’t look convinced, Thorpe tried another tactic. “Why would he set Callie up with a safe haven and volunteer all the information to us if he just wanted to collect the bounty?”

  “You’re right. Hell, I feel like I’m grasping at straws. Nothing makes sense. ”

  With a frown, Thorpe leaned across the table, pausing when the waitress came by to pour more coffee. “Let’s come back to how they found her later. The other big question is, why are they after her? Did her father have anything to do with the armed forces? Did he have any money in defense contracting? Have any sway with senators on the Armed Services Committee? Rub elbows with generals?”

  “I’d have to go back and double-check her file, but none of that rings a bell. ” Sean sighed. “I don’t want it, but I need some fucking sleep. ”

  As much as Thorpe would rather keep searching for her, he needed some shut-eye, too. He would be no good to anyone until he got it, and neither would Sean.

  He looked at his watch. Late afternoon. “There’s a good chance that wherever Callie is now, she’s lying low and resting. If she’s singing, she’ll likely be doing it at night. ”

  “I agree.
Since that will be her first choice of jobs, rather than serving food on her feet all the time, let’s go with the idea that she’s not working right now. After a nap, you and I will meet up again. Six sound good?”

  Thorpe didn’t want to pause, but they both needed to be sharp. “Yeah. ”

  In silence, they walked to a cheap hotel nearby and secured a couple of rooms. The place was decent but older, took cash, and didn’t ask many questions since they’d paid for a week in advance. It was hardly the Ritz, and he couldn’t have cared less.

  Once inside, Thorpe made a few more phone calls, one to Xander, who hooked him up with Javier. Carefully, he asked questions about Daniel Howe without mentioning Callie herself. The elder Santiago brother had been in the defense contracting business for over a decade, but he’d never heard anything about Callie’s father dipping his toe in that water, financing such a venture, or hobnobbing with influential senators or military officials. Another dead fucking end.

  Next door, he could hear Sean talking as well. Fuck, this place was musty and old. Normally, he’d never stay here, and it broke his heart to think of Callie curled up someplace even dumpier than this.

  Why had she run without talking to him at all? Had she truly believed that he didn’t care enough to keep her safe?

  With a tired sigh, he wedged himself into the small shower and tried to wash his funk away. No such luck. His mood was still crashing. He felt every single second that ticked by and started to picture the rest of his life without Callie. God, even the thought made him insane. No way he could do without her in his life. He’d move mountains, part oceans, rip his own damn heart out of his chest to have her back.

  But even if he did, he still wouldn’t be the right man for her.

  Stepping out of the shower, he wrapped a threadbare white towel around his waist and plodded over to his bed. Just as he sat in exhaustion to call himself every kind of dumbshit for letting her slip through his fingers, his phone rang. The number looked like Logan’s.

  “Hi. You got something for me?” he barked.

  “You sound fucking miserable. ”

  “I am, Logan. I’m in a rattrap with a splitting headache. I need sleep, and all I can think about is Callie out there, believing that she’s totally alone. What if the military brass looking for her found her before we did? I don’t even want to think it, but I don’t know why they want her, where they would have taken her, or—”

  “Take a breath, man,” Logan cut in. “Callie made it out of the airport in one piece. I just got off the phone with Elijah. ”

  “You’re sure?” Hope sprang inside him for a sweet moment.

  “Yeah,” Logan assured. “He found someone in airport security who was willing to let him view the footage of the terminal just after her flight landed. She came off the plane in different clothing, complete with a fake belly and somehow smaller boobs. No idea how she managed that. She’d ditched the hat, donned a blond wig, put on a crap-ton of makeup and sunglasses. Elijah said it took him a few passes through the footage to spot her, but he did. ”

  “Callie managed to prepare for this trip, at least a little. Her resourcefulness shouldn’t surprise me. ” But it sure relieved the fuck out of him. She’d gotten away from her potentially dangerous enemy—at least for now.

  “I shouldn’t be surprised, either. The Callie I knew only excelled at wanting her way and throwing a hissy until she got it. But I only saw the same bratty act she peddled to everyone else. You know the real woman. ”

  Thorpe closed his eyes. He did, but it had taken a long while to learn her. After she’d gotten a bit comfortable with him and Dominion, she’d slowly let her guard down. She’d let him in a bit more when she’d laughed at his jokes, passed time with him on the sofa, or chatted with him when she couldn’t sleep. Then again when she’d had the flu, disagreed with him about her sometimes disrespectful behavior, or teased him about his “stodgy” music. And still more when he’d bound her for demos, held her, kissed her . . . barely stopped himself from claiming her when she wasn’t his. He had seen her heart and that’s when he’d fallen in love.

  “I’m glad she got away,” he said thickly.

  “Clean,” Logan confirmed. “After stopping off at the first bathroom inside the terminal, she walked out no longer carrying her backpack. She’d gotten a red duffel from somewhere. According to Elijah, she dragged it behind her and made her way toward the meet point in baggage claim. She intended to follow through with my plan. I can only guess that she took precautions on the plane just to be safe, then realized the man in uniform just outside the terminal was looking for her. She changed course and walked right past my buddy, then out the door. In the last frame of footage she’s viewable, she’s walking down the long line of taxis. No idea which one she eventually got in. ”

 
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