BDSM club owner Adam Kessler is no one’s hero. He joined the army to get away from the gang-life that had taken his brother, only to come home to heartache. He doesn’t hide his dominant side, and he doesn’t hesitate in his need to protect or enforce his particular brand of retribution on those who’ve earned it. There’s no way in hell he could walk past a man hassling a woman in an empty parking lot and do nothing. Only when the confrontation is over and the voluptuous blonde turns eyes filled with desire to him, does Adam realize he’s in trouble.
Psychologist Olivia Hamilton grew up with the proverbial silver spoon, and has never regretted spending more time on her career than on romance, until she meets Adam Kessler. He’s dark, he’s dangerous, he’s deliciously dirty…and she wants him.
Passion burns quick and hot between them and soon they’re caught up in an intensely carnal relationship that neither can deny. But when Olivia’s life is threatened and Adam shows her just how dangerous he can be, will it be too much for the civilized psychologist to handle, or will she truly accept the man and win her hero’s heart?
Adam Kessler was at home in the shadows; he had no fear of them, even those that writhed in his chest with every breath he took. He moved swiftly over the high fence and skirted the yard’s perimeter. Avoiding the widely spaced high-tech surveillance cameras was easy for someone used to running stealth raids in places far more hostile than Beverly Hills. Pulse steady, breathing calm, he finessed the lock and moved into the darkness of his target’s home.
Just after three in the morning, and all was quiet as he cleared room after room. Adam’s previous surveillance had confirmed the intel that his target lived alone. The house staff wouldn’t begin to arrive for another two hours, so he moved silent and sure through the almost empty house until he reached the hallway leading to the master bedroom. He paused in the middle of the hallway and stared at the keypad next to the door, his instincts screaming.
He wanted to leave checking it for later, but couldn’t. The need to protect overcame all others, and if the room wasn’t empty, whoever was inside it would become his first priority. Holstering his weapon, he made quick work of the little electronic panel. For someone with so much to hide, the security in this house was seriously underwhelming. The alarm released and, gut clenching, Adam pulled the door open gently.
It was what he’d expected, yet so much worse.
Through a set of iron bars, he could see inside the room. There was a double bed with a pretty flowered cover, a small table with a stack of books, and an entrance with no door to a small bathroom with a toilet and shower stall clearly visible. It wasn’t fancy, and if it weren’t for the bars on the windows and the door, you might not see it for what it was. A cage.
Adam fought for control, tamping down the rage burning through his veins. The cage was empty now, and that was all that mattered. It meant he could continue on with his plan.
At the end of the hall, he slowly pushed the door open.
Adam’s movements were fast and sure as he entered the room. There was no longer a need for silence, and he deliberately made some noise as he flipped on the overhead light, wanting to wake the man up.
“What the hell?” The man rolled over in his comfortable bed and sat up, but he was slow, complacent. Before he could say or do anything else, Adam had him by the hair and pulled him from the bed and onto the floor.
He wasn’t a small man, but Adam had surprise on his side, and the target landed in a graceless heap.
Adam stepped back, aimed the Beretta directly between the man’s eyes, and spoke calmly. “Stand up.”
“Who the hell are you?” the man demanded as he got to his feet, red-faced, cracking his knuckles and glaring at Adam. “Do you know who I am? I’ll have you killed for this.”
Adam spoke softly. “Listen carefully, Michael. I’m only going to tell you once. Maria Alvarez, remember her? I’m here to make sure you pay for what you did to her, and the others.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything to her she didn’t like. The little slut liked to be hit, she liked to be beat,” he said. “It made her all wet and horny.”
Emotions battered against the box he’d build deep inside himself years ago. He ignored them. “And if you’d let her go when she wanted to go, we might not be here like this. But you didn’t, did you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man said with a cocky sneer. “So either fucking shoot me or get the fuck out of my house.”
“Shooting you now would be too quick, and you don’t deserve a quick painless death,” Adam said as he slid his weapon into his shoulder holster. He stepped forward and let the man get a good look at the promise in his eyes. “And I’m going to give you what you deserve.”
The man looked like he was going to fight back, and Adam actually hoped he did. They were equal in size, and in age, and both men had killed before. The thing that made all the difference was that Michael had killed a much weaker woman, and that fact only fed Adam’s need for vengeance.
The man deserved no pity, and Adam gave him none. He stepped in, grabbed the man by his T-shirt, jerked him forward, and slammed him with a headbutt hard enough to break his nose. The pain to his own head was nothing to Adam, as he waited for the man to recover.
When the man stepped back in, swinging a punch from way back, Adam stepped aside and landed a hard combo to the kidney, making his target grunt and drop to a knee. He didn’t say anything more; he just waited for his target to stand up.
As if realizing there was no way he was going to win an actual fight, Michael pointed to a black leather briefcase on the chair by the entrance to the room. “Money,” he wheezed. “Millions. Take it.”
Adam reached down and pulled the guy to a standing position again while snarling. “You might be able to buy your way out of an investigation, but you can’t buy your way out of justice.”
Without a glance at the briefcase, Adam took him apart methodically. Punch to the kidney, to the gut, uppercut to the chin, slam a fist in his belly. When he was bent over, another couple punches to the kidney, a knee to the face to throw him back.
Grunts of pain filled the air, and Adam felt bones crack beneath his fists. When he was done, he let the man fall to the floor. Still conscious, but barely.
Then he pulled the M9 from its holster and, with no hesitation, put a bullet in his target’s brain.
Adam stared down at the bloody, blank-eyed corpse in front of him, and regret washed over him. Not regret for what he’d just done, but that it had needed to be done.
He turned to leave, and his gaze landed on the briefcase full of money. Millions, he’d said. Take it, he’d said.
Adam picked it up and walked out the door without looking back. He hadn’t been there to protect Maria when she’d needed him, but he could be there for others.
He would be there for others.
Four years later.
It was her laugh that got his attention. Deep, husky, and so raw, it made his skin tighten and his dick jump.
Pulling his gaze from the group of teens loitering on the boardwalk just ahead of him, Adam stopped walking, shifted sideways to avoid a couple of rollerbladers, and stepped to the side of the sidewalk. Standing still, he scanned the thinning crowd of the open-air patio he’d just passed, surprised to see who it was. He’d spotted her and her friend when he’d come up on the cafe, but they weren’t a threat, so his gaze had slid over them.
Now, unable to resist, he refocused and took a closer look.
Her posture was straight-up, and her blonde hair was pulled back smoothly to show off a perfectly made-up face and subtle gold jewelry. She was dressed casually in jeans, an embellished T-shirt and strappy sandals, but they were all of the expensive-looking designer variety that made him think business executive, or maybe lawyer, on her day off.
Even seated as she was, he could read the curves of her body. Soft womanly curves that her straight-laced clothes couldn’t quite hide.
But damn, she was a beauty.
Unfortunately, she was also one of those scarily polished, well put-together women. Everything about her brought to mind the word Lady and all it entailed. Not the type that sparked his fire at all. But when that husky laugh floated to his ears again, Adam’s cock swelled quickly and stood at attention.
It surprised him. He hadn’t reacted to a woman that instinctively in a long time. Too long for him to even think about. When he wanted a woman, he went for the earthy type. Women who wore their sexuality on their sleeve and knew the score. Ones who emanated more of a sexual vibe than a classy sophisticated one, and who enjoyed sex for what it was, a basic human need.
The woman she was with looked to be more his type. The friend wore loose cargo-style pants and a tank top that showed off the colorful flowers tattooed on each shoulder. Long hair, dark and curly, streamed over her shoulders, and a couple of facial piercings sparkled in the setting sun as she moved and gestured enthusiastically when she talked.
Adam couldn’t help but be surprised that they were so obviously comfortable with each other.
Beauty didn’t talk as much as the other, not by a long shot. She listened with a small smile always on her full pink lips, occasionally commenting, and laughing often enough that Adam found himself standing outside the cafe far longer than he’d planned.
“It’s all about the cock, Olli.”
Olivia Hamilton coughed and tried not to choke on the mouthful of wine she’d just taken. “Damn it, Jazz. Don’t say stuff like that when I have a mouthful.”
Her dark eyes danced merrily. “It’s likely a mouthful is exactly what you need.”
As a dark-haired and free-spirited naturalist, Jazmin Plant was the opposite of the Beverly Hills born blonde Olivia in almost every way. Why her blunt words were a surprise Olivia didn’t know.
“If the man doesn’t know what to do with his cock to get you off, then why put up with all the other shit that comes with having him in your life?”
She huffed out a laugh and smiled at her closest friend. “Only you, Jazzy.”
Jazmin grinned. “You know I’ll always tell you like it is, and in this case, you should definitely listen to me and not some spoiled-ass banker who’s trying to blame his failings on you.”
“There’s more to a good relationship than sex,” she said. Not that she’d know from experience, since in her forty-four years she’d never had a relationship last more than three months—the honeymoon stage as she called it. Olivia didn’t blame the sex, though. She liked sex enough and enjoyed it. She blamed her career. “Tom’s breaking up with me didn’t have anything to do with sex, or the quality of it. He just got tired of me canceling dates because I had to work. He didn’t like playing second fiddle to my clients.”
“If he was as good in the sack as you are, then you’d be less inclined to stay late and work and more inclined to head out to be with him.”
Olivia laughed. “He wasn’t that bad.”
“Ah-ha!” Jazz cried, pointing a blunt finger at her. “Not bad is not the same as good, my friend, and you know it.”
The weird thing was Olivia did know it.
She took another sip of her Chardonnay and relaxed completely for the first time since she’d left Tom’s place earlier that evening. She might not agree with Jazz about sex being the glue that held a relationship together, but she got that Tom wasn’t the man for her. He was a nice guy, a good guy, and maybe that was the problem. He’d bored her, in bed and out of it. She would rather be at work than with him.
“Enough about my life,” she said with a smile. “Tell me about this new store you’re opening.”
As Jazz explained the concept for the new cafe/gallery/bookstore she was opening, Olivia listened and marveled at her friend’s ingenuity. She sat and soaked up the energy her friend radiated and thanked whatever higher power had thought to make them roommates at college so many years ago. It had been a fight with her family for Olivia to be allowed to live in the dorms at UCLA, but she’d been determined. Getting out of the house she’d grown up in and into those dorms had been essential to her plan of escaping the family folds that tried to desperately suffocate any sense of individuality. She’d completely lucked out getting the nonjudgmental Jazmin as a roommate. They’d both wanted the same things in a way. Jazz had wanted to get away from her commune roots as much as Olivia had wanted to ditch the silver spoon she’d been born with.
Both of them had been eager for new experiences and had become close quickly. By the time they’d graduated, Olivia was closer to Jazz than she was to any of her blood-and-bone family. Despite living very different lives for the past fifteen years, the two had only become closer.
“We don’t get together enough,” Olivia said after they’d paid the bill and Jazz was unchaining her bike from in front of the cafe. Olivia glanced up and down the near-empty boardwalk. The sun had set almost an hour ago, and now, almost all the shops were closed and the lively and colorful vibe of Venice Beach in the daytime was gone. They’d hung out longer than they’d planned.
“Now that Blake is away in college you have to promise me that you won’t just bury yourself in that store. You will set aside time for yourself,” she said as they walked to the parking lot together.
Jazz smiled. “And you?”
“And me,” Olivia confirmed.
“How about we make a weekly date, like we used to do before…”
“Before you fell in love with a wonderful man, had a beautiful baby girl and made a family together?” Olivia asked gently.
Jazz smiled sadly. “I’m sorry we lost touch, Ollie.”
“I’m not.” Her friend’s teary eyes widened, and her mouth rounded in a surprise. “I’m glad one of us lived the dream of finding and falling in love with a good man. I couldn’t be happier that you married and had a baby, and had a good full life with him before he was wrenched from your life so unfairly. It’s my fault I let you drift away. You always invited me to Blake’s birthdays, and family dinners, but I didn’t always show up.”
“You showed up when I needed you.”
Olivia remembered striding into the hospital that night scared out of her mind, seeing Jazz covered in blood and cuts with such unbelievable pain in her eyes. “I’ll always be there when you need me.”
“I know,” Jazz said softly. “I’ve always known. And I promise, now that Blake is in school and the shop is almost open, you’ll be seeing me a lot more often. Say every Tuesday night again?”
Pleasure warmed Olivia’s heart. “It’s a date.”
When they reached the parking lot and found it near empty, Olivia realized it was quite late. The women hugged, and Olivia watched Jazz hop on her bike and pedal away before she climbed into her old Mercedes.
She turned the key in the ignition and growled when the engine coughed but didn’t turn over. It was the first car she’d bought with money she’d made on her own, and even though she could easily afford a new one now, she loved the car and hung onto it for all it stood for.
She glanced around the near-empty beach and boardwalk, and a tingle of unease fluttered in her belly. Clearly, she’d hung onto it longer than was smart. Closing her eyes, she muttered a quick prayer and turned the key again, relieved when it caught and began to purr roughly.
A sharp rap on the driver’s side window and a shouted, “Yo!” made her eyes pop open and a squeak jump from her tight throat.
She turned her head and tamped down her fear at the smiling face in the window. “Get out the car, bitch.”
She slapped her hand over the automatic locks a split second before he tried the handle. Then she shoved the car into reverse and was about to slam her foot on the pedal when there was a loud bang on the hood. She glanced in the rearview mirror and saw another gang-banger there, this one pointing a gun right at her.
“Damn it.” She knew better. She really did.
Venice Beach at night wasn’t the bed of crime it used to be, but victims of random violence made up a good many of her clients. Crime was everywhere and anywhere; she knew it in her head, but suddenly none of that mattered. What mattered now was that, as she looked around, the only people she saw were the two car-jackers and a couple of lumpy shadows that were likely homeless people who wouldn’t get involved.
“Come on, bitch, get out the car!” the guy at her door shouted. “The longer you make us wait, the harder it’s gonna be on you.”
She put the car in park and quickly slipped her heels off while she grabbed her purse and pretended to fumble with the door locks. She could hear them laughing and talking shit outside the window, but she ignored it, instead focusing on what she had to do. She had to get past the guy at the door and run. They could have the car; they couldn’t have her.
Most people liked to run on the beach in the morning. Start the day off right, and all that shit. Adam worked-out every morning but in his gym. He preferred to run the beach at night. It was less crowded, and the sound of the waves rolling up on the beach weren’t drowned out by barking dogs or seagulls hunting. Plus, every now and then, he got the bonus release of handing out a beat-down to some idiot who was stupid enough to see him as a target when he strolled the boardwalk for his cool down.
He was standing in front of the red and white striped awning of the cafe, where he’d seen Beauty before he started his run, when a sharp scream rent the air. South, it came from the south.
Adam didn’t think twice. In seconds, he was at the parking lot and saw one guy wrestling with a woman on the ground next to an older model Mercedes, and another dancing around them, waving his hands in the air and egging his buddy on.
One of those hands held a pistol, but the idiot was so intent on watching his buddy he didn’t see Adam coming until it was too late. His eyes widened, he aimed and fired, but Adam had already started his roll. He came up to the left of the gunman, grabbed his outstretched hand, turned into him, and pulled it down sharply over his own shoulder, dislocating the shooter’s elbow and shoulder. The guy’s scream of pain was cut off sharply when Adam spun again and punched him in the throat, effectively dropping him out of the fight.
It had taken a total of three seconds, and when Adam turned to the pair on the ground, the second attacker was already on his feet and taking off. The animal inside him wanted to chase down the other prey, but the man needed to stay and protect.
Adam turned to the wheezing, moaning pile of shit next to him, slammed a roundhouse into his jaw, knocking him out, and then turned to the woman now kneeling on the ground.
It was Beauty.
“Oh, my god,” she whispered, staring at him.
He squatted so he was at eye level with her but didn’t move closer. He didn’t want to scare her any more than she already was. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She stared at him a moment longer, pupils dilated, lips parted, then she gave her head a shake and pushed to her feet, visibly gathering herself.
“Of course you’re not going to hurt me. You saved me,” she said as she picked up the purse nearby and dug through it. “Is he dead?”
Adam listened, looking her over as she called 911, and asked for police at their location.
She was very calm and cool. Her voice didn’t waiver, her hands didn’t tremble, and her avid gaze never left his.
He’d had no fear heading into the fight, but when he looked at Beauty, he was afraid—afraid he’d just found someone he wouldn’t be able to let go.