Theirs to cherish, p.23
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.23
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         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 23

 

  The thought niggled at his brain as he withdrew a recent picture he’d printed of Callie, one he’d clandestinely snapped on his phone at Dominion. She wore a little Mona Lisa smile, her full, rosy lips somehow taunting and affectionate at once, tempting him. Her eyes glittered with life and vitality. Her glossy black hair shone against her pale cheek. Inch after inch of the most unspoiled skin he’d ever touched drew his stare all the way down to the hint of her cleavage. His memory supplied the rest—sweet pink-berry nipples, flat belly, slender hips, sleek thighs, snug pussy. Sexual power in a petite dynamo of a female.

  Thorpe nudged him. “Get on with it. ”

  Pulled out of his musings, Sean nodded, then sat the image down on the counter in front of the desk clerk. He held his breath.

  Her eyes flared with recognition, and she looked at him, suddenly in a hurry to be forthcoming. The apprehensive glance she slid Thorpe’s way explained why. “Yeah, I know her. ”

  “And? Go on. When did she check in?” Sean demanded.

  “Two days ago. Middle of the night. ”

  Bingo! “Go on. ”

  “She was dragging a red duffel. I think she’s a blonde now. ”

  He and Thorpe exchanged a glance. She’d disguised herself, as they’d suspected. But his excitement was reflected in the other man’s gray eyes. They were finally getting a lead on Callie. Sean’s heart pumped. His skin tingled. Hell, even his cock engorged. Instinct told him they were close.

  Thorpe braced his hands on the counter with deceptive calm. He stood tall and imposing. His mood stretched tighter than wire suspending a bridge. The woman’s jaw went slack as she stared up at him, blinking so rapidly, Sean was surprised her false eyelashes didn’t take flight.

  “You’ll tell us everything you remember,” Thorpe commanded. “Now. ”

  The woman bobbed her head again. “Sh-she asked for a corner room near the stairs. I happened to have it. She asked about a place to eat and somewhere to find work. I sent her across the street to the diner. ”

  The one that had seen better days decades ago and had a collection of homeless drunks littering the parking lot.

  “She’s waitressing there?” Thorpe barked.

  “N-no. My cousin Marty runs a club about two blocks down and he’s always looking for pretty girls, so I sent her there. ”

  “Did she go?” The Dom’s voice dripped ice.

  “Yeah. She’s working until two a. m. Marty . . . um, called me to thank me about an hour ago. After less than three shifts, she’s already a customer favorite. He called her a gold mine. ”

  Thorpe gritted his teeth, and Sean could only imagine what was running through the man’s head. Probably the same what-the-fuck thoughts dashing through his own.

  “The name of the club?” Thorpe wasn’t sounding any warmer.

  The brassy blonde swallowed and stared up, almost pleading silently for Thorpe’s leniency. “G-glitter Girls. Go out the door, take a right and head—”

  “What the fuck kind of place is that?” Thorpe cut in with a growl.

  “I know exactly where it is. ” Sean discreetly elbowed the Dom as he smiled at the clerk. “What’s her room number?”

  She focused on him and softened. Sean shoved down his fury to send her a gently encouraging expression. If good cop-bad cop worked, he was all for it.

  “Two-seventeen,” she murmured. “Out the door, to the left, then up the stairs. It’s right at the top. ”

  “Key. ” Sean held out his hand.

  “I-I’m really not supposed to—”

  Thorpe raised a menacing brow, promising retribution if she continued to protest. The woman jumped to action, reaching under the desk with trembling fingers to extract a key. She dropped it in Sean’s hand, then cut her gaze to Thorpe, her eyes pleading for approval.

  “Is her room paid?” the Dom demanded.

  “Through tomorrow night. ”

  Damn, had Callie intended to skip town in another twenty-four hours or less?

  “Very good. You can consider her room vacant in the next hour. ” The smile Thorpe bestowed on her then was brilliant, praising as he tapped her chin gently. “Thank you for your help . . . Your name?”

  She lapped up that smile like a kitten with fresh milk. “Doreen. Sir. ”

  If anything, Thorpe’s smile widened. “You’ve been very helpful, sweet girl. ”

  “I tried,” she breathed with a wobbly smile.

  Sean tried to hold in his astonishment. Instead, he leaned across the counter to the clerk and slapped a hundred-dollar bill on the counter between them. “And you never saw us, Doreen. ”

  She looked at him blankly, then back over to Thorpe. All the man did was send her an expectant stare, and she nodded vigorously. “Never. ”

  Sean palmed the key and turned to Thorpe, still holding the woman all but hypnotized. “Let’s go. ”

  Chapter Ten

  THORPE turned to him as they made their way out of the motel’s disgusting lobby and headed for the Jeep. “So where’s this club?”

  “In a minute. We’ve got to clear her room first. ” Sean inclined his head toward the stairs to the upper level of the joint.

  “Fuck whatever’s in her room. We need to get to Glitter Girls now, before she gets away again. ”

  Sean glanced at his watch. “I want to reach her, too. You know that. It’s not quite one, and she’s working until two, so we’ve got some time. But we can’t leave behind any trace of Callie that anyone looking for her could find. If there’s no trail, there are fewer followers. ”

  Thorpe gritted his teeth. “I don’t like it. ”

  “I don’t either, but what are our other choices?”

  It annoyed him, but Sean had a point. Thorpe conceded with a sigh. “All right. The good news is, it will probably take five minutes or less since Callie won’t have spread her stuff out. Hell, she was with me nearly three months before she put anything in a drawer. ”

  Sean stared at the upper story of the motel as the chilly desert wind whipped through his light jacket. “Let’s make this quick. ”

  Nodding, Thorpe followed Sean and darted for the stairs, taking them two at a time until he reached the cracked cement level. The rusted railing had once been painted a bright blue, but had faded and chipped over time. The blue drapes with their blackout backing in each of the room’s filthy windows looked dirty enough to be a breeding ground for bacteria and insect eggs. A few doors down, a man and a woman were arguing at the top of their lungs. In the distance, a gunshot sounded, then tires screeched.

  Thorpe knew why Callie had chosen this place, but he still wondered what the hell she was doing here. There had to be someplace else out of the way that wasn’t quite so ghetto-gutter.

  In the moonlight, he approached the first door at the top of the stairs and barely made out the tarnished brass numbers.

  “Callie chose the corner room, the one with stairs in either direction,” Sean commented.

  “Obviously, she’d scoped the place out in advance. ”

  “Clever, clever girl. ”

  As they charged toward the room in question, Thorpe tossed him a nod. “You know she is. Don’t underestimate her. ”

  “No. ” Sean shook his head. “I’ve made that mistake for the last time. ”

  They hit the door, and Sean shoved the key into the lock, then pushed it open. As soon as he did, Thorpe squeezed past him and flipped on the light. He wished he hadn’t. The carpet looked some indiscriminate color that might have been beige once. The walls were covered in faded oak paneling. The ceiling showed signs of water damage. A dilapidated swamp cooler controlled the room’s temperature—sort of. The drapes were a faded blue floral that would make even a great-grandmother cringe. The bedspread was a cheap polyester imitation of polka-dotted and zigzagged stripes. The light fixture in the bathroom was minus its decorative cover. A roach crawled across the wall above the mussed, unmade bed.

 
“What a fucking dump. ” Sean stared around the room in stupefied horror.

  “This is the way she lived before she came to me,” Thorpe said with a hollow voice.

  “I knew that on paper, but holy shit. ”

  “How could she go back to this after everything . . . ” Thorpe pressed his lips together, refusing to lose control of his anger—or feel too hurt. “When I get my hands on her, she won’t sit for a week. And that’s the beginning of what I’ve got planned for her. ”

  “Better make that two weeks. I have some ideas of my own. ”

  Thorpe shoved aside the fact that Sean hadn’t objected to him spanking Callie. Yes, she’d taken off her collar, but she hadn’t discussed it with Sean, who probably didn’t see their relationship as over. Thorpe knew that the girl would never belong to him, but he refused to let this behavior slide without putting in his two cents—and then some.

  Quickly, they searched the room. He found her backpack in the closet and grabbed it. There was no sign of the red duffel she’d mysteriously acquired in the airport bathroom. She had nothing else personal anywhere in the room. Even her toothbrush had been stowed back in the appropriate plastic holder in a zippered pouch. The used bar of soap told him that she’d taken a shower. Over the odor of mildew and stale cigarettes pervading the motel, he smelled a light trace of her.

  As Callie’s scent registered in his brain, boiling blood filled his cock. A caveman urge to grab her, bind her, and fuck her until she understood all the reasons she could never run away from him again seized Thorpe.

  “She was here,” Sean confirmed, sniffing the sheets.

  “I’ve got her stuff. ” He indicated to the pack slung over his shoulder.

  Sean gave him a thumbs-up, then headed for the door. Thorpe followed, hot on his heels. Back in the lobby, he tossed the key to Doreen with a stern warning glance. The woman looked somewhere between breathless and ready to shit her pants when he left. She wouldn’t talk without substantial incentive. Not a perfect solution for keeping Callie safe, but the best he could do now.

  Back in the Jeep, Sean had started the engine and turned on the lights. Thorpe tossed Callie’s backpack in and shut the passenger door as the other man threw the vehicle into reverse and peeled out of the parking lot.

  The journey to Glitter Girls seemed like the longest two blocks of his life. When they reached the seedy dive bar, his worst fears were confirmed. The windows were covered up and painted the same color as the exterior walls. A big neon sign over the building advertised TOPLESS GIRLS! Thorpe swore.

  It was a fucking strip joint. Callie better hope for her sake that she was merely waitressing.

  The lowlife clientele slinking in seemed like a mixture of locals and tourists. They all looked as if they’d served time. None of them appeared to take bathing too seriously.

  As they reached the front door, a big bouncer stood grunting out a “request” for the cover charge over the raucous music. Ten bucks with a two-drink minimum. The guys in front of them pulled out a big wad of cash he’d bet they had obtained in less-than-legal ways.

  As he and Sean each pulled out a bill and ran in the door, the smoke, stale beer, sweat, and glitter assailed him. Goddamn it, this place was the worst sort of dive.

  On the sagging stage, someone named Whipped Cream, who wore two little pasties designed to look like her namesake, was taking her final bows. Her mother definitely hadn’t given her that name—or that shade of ruby-red hair. She didn’t look like she had all her teeth.

  The deejay sounded bored as he told the audience to give it up for the woman. The smattering of applause broke into chatter. A few bills littered the stage as Thorpe studied the girls serving drinks, hoping . . . But he didn’t see any waitress who had Callie’s face, build, or innate grace.

  Fucking son of a bitch.

  Sean looked around, too, obviously worried. “Where the hell did she get off to now?”

  Thorpe didn’t think Doreen would have been dumb enough to call her cousin and tell him to warn Callie. “I’m hoping she’s in the restroom. Or getting someone a drink. ”

  “If she’s already become a customer favorite, I doubt she’s serving drinks,” Sean managed to growl out with his teeth grinding. “If that’s the case, she’ll probably go on when the night’s in full swing, toward the end of her shift. ”

  In twenty minutes or less.

  Damn it to hell, he was right. “We don’t know her stage name, so we have no idea who to ask for. ”

  “Unless I barge into the back with my badge and drag her out of here. ”

  The idea had merit. Thorpe looked around, trying to gauge what the management’s reaction to having an FBI agent in their midst would be when a waitress came by for their drink orders. Truth told, he didn’t want anything, but ordered a bourbon and water, knowing he wouldn’t drink it. Sean asked for a vodka tonic, then motioned her down to him in a moment between the music.

 
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