Theirs to cherish, p.22
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.22

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 22


  So they couldn’t track the vehicle.

  Every word felt like a death knell to Thorpe’s hopes of finding her again. “Goddamn it, Logan. She’s got to be terrified out of her mind. And I can’t even fucking find her to help her. She’s alone and worried, maybe even running out of money. Does she even know where she’s going to sleep tonight? She might even be making plans to get out of Vegas now. And I’m too clueless to help her. What kind of protector am I?”

  “Cut yourself some slack. You’ve done everything you can to find her. I’m going to look for this military asswipe. Elijah is checking the airport security footage for a picture of him, so we can piece together who he is and why he wants Callie. If we get something, I’ll send it your way. Elijah is local if you need more assistance in your search. ” Logan tried to sound both calm and reassuring. “Callie is smart and she knows how to stay alive. We’ll find her and bring her home. ”

  As Thorpe hung up, he hoped that was true. The alternative was too horrific to contemplate.


  SEAN dragged his ass out of bed. He could have slept more. His body screamed for it, but Callie’s face haunted him. The feel of her in his arms, the sounds of her saucy laughter in his ear, the haunting beauty of her expressive eyes locked with his as he filled her body . . . Shit, how had he gone on a simple baby-sitting mission and ended up in love?

  For over a decade, he’d been married to his job. He’d lost a fiancée once upon a time to his badge. He’d lost touch with all his old pals, his cousins, and anyone who had once occupied his “normal” life.

  But in barely more than a handful of months, Callie had rewired his priorities. She mattered. She filled the half of him he hadn’t even known was empty. She’d resurrected him just by being her sweet, bratty, kind, unpredictable self. Damn it, he had to find her—before someone with intentions between nebulous and nefarious did.

  All through his blistering-hot shower, he groaned under the spray and tried to think of places he might look for his lovely. After he and Thorpe had caught a nap yesterday afternoon, they’d resumed their search that evening, pounding the pavement and opening the door to nearly every casino, dive bar, and twenty-four-hour diner they could find within walking distance. At four a. m. , they’d finally agreed to pause again. He’d told Thorpe he would work on a new plan, but the truth was, he was running out of ideas.

  Where the hell could she be? Worry knotted his guts and pinged in his head like a pinball bouncing between bumpers, setting off one alarm bell after another.

  Thirty minutes later, Thorpe scooted into a booth across from him in the hotel’s diner. Though dressed immaculately, the man didn’t look any better rested than he felt.

  “Anything new from Logan or Elijah?” Sean asked hopefully.

  Thorpe answered with a grim shake of his head. “Nothing new since yesterday. Maybe Callie is on the Strip. ”

  He’d been over this mentally a thousand times in the last twenty-four hours. “Highly unlikely. Anyone who’d employ her down there would insist on having proper identification. Since Callie left her fake driver’s license back in Dallas knowing we’d track that name, she’d have no use for it now. It’s possible she has another alias, but she wouldn’t keep it for long and she wouldn’t have asked Logan for help if she felt secure in the identity. Besides, the video surveillance on the Strip will be far sharper and more sophisticated than anything in the older section of town. The security presence in joints up there is palpable. Callie wouldn’t go there voluntarily. She’s too smart. ”

  “That makes sense. ” Thorpe sighed tiredly, then absently thanked the waitress who took their orders and filled their coffee cups. “Seems like we’ve combed every inch of these streets. I don’t know where else to go. ”

  The only places downtown left to search were the really unsavory and unpalatable. The dangerous haunts for the depraved and criminal element. But he kept that to himself. Thorpe already looked ready to lose it. The strain of being unable to locate Callie was wearing on him, too. If Sean had ever had any illusions about Thorpe’s feelings, he didn’t now. As much as he hated to admit it, the man genuinely loved her.

  “I’ve got a few more possibilities. ” Sean tried to shrug casually. “You get any sleep? It’s going to be another long day. ”

  “I crashed for three hours. After that . . . off and on. ” He took a swig of coffee, wincing as the steaming brew hit his tongue. “I kept having dreams about Callie needing help, being alone, crying. I couldn’t take it. I know she’s a very capable woman, but . . . ”

  Sean shot him a rueful smile. “I’m in the same camp, man. I woke up wondering if I’m crazy. How well do I know this girl? I know the person she showed me. I loved that woman. But is she the real Callie?”

  Thorpe paused for so long, Sean wasn’t sure he intended to answer. “I want like hell to lie to you and tell you that everything you saw was BS. But that’s not what’s best for her. ” He sighed. “Yeah, you saw the real Callie, especially that last night on the dungeon floor. She lowered her walls for you. With anyone else, she’d gnaw her own arm off before trembling or showing vulnerability. She’d avoid that kind of eye contact, and run screaming from that much . . . intimacy. She cared what you thought, how you felt. Her taking off probably doesn’t say that to you, but I know Callie better than anyone else. Believe me, you saw her. ”

  Suddenly, Sean understood one of the many things that ripped at Thorpe’s guts. “You’re not used to sharing that soft, secret side of her. You wanted it for yourself. ”

  The big man across the table paused, froze, then crushed the empty plastic creamer container in his fist. “If I couldn’t have any other part of her, I was willing to accept that. Seeing her wanting to please someone else felt like a never-ending kick in the balls. But you’re better for her, so . . . ”

  Yeah, he should probably let that go. It was in his best interest to let Thorpe think he’d ruin Callie or whatever bullshit trolled through his head. But the man had been brutally honest with him today, and they’d been through too much in the last thirty-six hours for that crap. They weren’t friends, but they shared a new respect forged in fire. Both of them knew bone deep that the other would do anything—everything—to keep Callie safe.

  Sean swallowed. “You’re not bad for Callie. She looks to you for so much—comfort, security. ” He had to force out the next truth. “Even love. She wants you in her life. I’m probably the interloper here. ”

  With a tight squeeze of his eyes, Thorpe blocked him out, looking as if he worked hard to hold himself together. “I love her more than I believed myself capable of loving any woman. You have no idea how difficult it is for me to say that, but I feel compelled to confess since you called me a coward and rubbed my nose in my feelings like dog shit. I’m painfully aware that Callie needs the tenderness you’ve given her. I’m not capable of it. ” He rubbed at his forehead. “Ask my ex-wife, for starters. ”

  “Tenderness isn’t all she needs. ” Sean prayed he had everything inside him she required to be whole. Nights at Dominion when he’d wondered exactly how to give her boundaries that would both bind her to him and let her fly free . . . That’s when he’d felt unsure. That’s when he’d wondered if Thorpe was the better man for her.

  “Oh, she needs a lot more. ” Thorpe snorted. “Starting with a thorough paddling. ”

  “Damn straight. ” He picked up his coffee cup, and clinked it against Thorpe’s, who still clutched his in hand.

  They each took a sip and resorted to silence, as if this much getting along was unnerving.

  Their food arrived, and Sean wasn’t terribly hungry. By the way Thorpe pushed his eggs around his plate, it looked like the other man couldn’t find his appetite, either. Still, they forced the meal down, knowing they’d need the energy. Nothing was said about how long they would stay here and what they would do if Callie was still missing in a week, in a month . . . or longer. Sean wasn’t about to g
ive up, and he’d bet his badge that Thorpe wasn’t either.

  “I’m trying to decide if it’s good or bad that we haven’t run into anyone in a uniform looking for Callie,” Thorpe said suddenly.

  “I’ve had the same question, but I have to think it’s good. ”

  “I know she managed to leave the airport without a hitch, but how do we know someone hasn’t already found Callie and . . . ”

  Captured her? Killed her? Sean swallowed. Fuck, Thorpe was all but reading his mind. But he didn’t want to voice any of those fears. “We just need to keep looking. Stay strong and be persistent. We have one thing going for us that no one else does. ”

  Thorpe lifted miserable gray eyes to him, looking like the gloomiest day. “What? Give me anything to feel good about. ”

  Sean was no cheerleader, but in this case, he refused to believe anything except they’d gotten a jump on the asshole hunting her down for one reason alone. “Callie isn’t just a case to either of us. She means something. Hell, everything. We know her desires, her habits, her secret yearnings. She can’t bury all those parts of herself forever. When she needs . . . ” Sean nodded, willing Thorpe not to lose faith. “When she comes up looking for a sense of home or connection or affection—whatever—we’ll be waiting. ”

  But twelve hours later, he was losing hope. They’d hit even the worst of the worst places downtown. Terrible, seedy, dirty, filled with the dregs of humanity. He couldn’t picture Callie here. She’d shine too bright, be too beautiful. No way she could hide here for long.

  As they continued pounding the pavement, they stumbled across a motel with a blinking turquoise neon sign that proclaimed it Summer Wind. Given the fact that this was Vegas, it had to be a nod to one of Sinatra’s classic tunes, but its faded façade made Thorpe stop in his tracks.

  “Callie’s favorite season,” Thorpe murmured.

  “‘Summer’ was her safe word, too. ” Sean swallowed, hope brimming.

  Thorpe zipped a sharp stare in his direction. The knowledge looked like it hit the big Dom right in the gut. “It fits. We have to look here. ”

  It was a crapshoot, but Sean totally agreed.

  The place looked beyond run-down. It had to be cheap. But it seemed like the first place in over twenty-four hours that made sense for Callie to have come.

  He and Thorpe pushed their way inside. Wow, it was easily one of the crappiest motels he’d ever seen. The windows hadn’t been washed in the last two decades. In the lobby, the carpet beneath his feet was sticky. The air reeked of cigarettes, vomit, urine, and cheap disinfectant. Rent by the week or the hour—apparently the management wasn’t picky about how long anyone stayed as long as they paid.

  Inside stood a woman who was probably in her late thirties but had lived so damn hard she’d easily be mistaken for fifty. She lounged against a scarred white Formica countertop permanently stained yellow, wearing a thrift store castoff of a tank top that showed cleavage wrinkled from too much sun. The woman’s lined lips wrapped around a slim smoke and she sucked in hard before blowing the smoke his way with a bored stare.

  “You two looking for a room?” Her voice rattled from her lungs. “If you need more than an hour for your ‘business,’ you might have to come back. We’re pretty full up. ”

  Beside him, Thorpe choked, looking ready to throttle the woman. He sliced her his most displeased Dom face. In seconds, the woman lowered her cigarette and stared at him warily.

  Sean stepped between them, shooting Thorpe a glare that told him to be fucking reasonable. “No. We don’t need a room to share. Or any room at all. ” He reached into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out his badge. “FBI. I’m looking for someone. ”

  The bleach blonde with the gray roots looked ready to piss her pants. “I swear I told Johnny to be careful who the hell he hired. Who is it, the new repairman? I suspected he might be a con man, but I didn’t know. ”

  “Focus, woman,” Thorpe snapped. “We’re asking the questions. You will answer us precisely and honestly. You will not speak unless spoken to. If you’re dishonest, we’ll have problems, you and I. Is that clear?”

  The woman gave a rattled bob of her head. “Um . . . yeah. ”

  Thorpe turned to him with a grim smile. “Proceed. ”

  The situation wasn’t funny, but Sean repressed the urge to grin. Thorpe had gotten the woman’s attention, that was for sure. After a handful of words, she couldn’t wait to give him a healthy dose of respect. He supposed Thorpe’s commanding presence was one reason so many subs sought him as a Dominant. And it was probably one of the reasons Callie had latched on to him. Deep down, she needed to believe that someone watched over her, looked out for her, and would rein her in if she’d gone too far. She ached to know that someone could save her if push came to shove. But Callie was so damn headstrong that whomever she turned to would have to truly exert his control before she’d heed it. Thorpe would have no problem doing that. He’d relish it.

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