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Authors: Evelyn Vaughn

Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Suspense

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BOOK: Underground Warrior
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“Where’d you grow up anyway—a convent?” Maybe he somehow noticed her inner flinch, despite her effort to keep her expression safely impassive. Some of the sarcasm eased off his dark features. “I get to know you’re safe. I get to spend time with you, maybe get to know you. Figure out why…you know….”

None of which seemed a satisfying exchange for the effort he was putting out. She was just…Sibyl. And, to be technical, she wasn’t even that.

He leaned closer—easy to do in a ’70s-model sedan with a bench seat. With a simple click of his seat belt, Trace loomed over her quite thoroughly. “Why this,” he offered, his voice rough. Then he covered her lips with a scratchy, damp kiss that set her head spinning into a confusion of theses and speculations and corollaries and oh…

The scent of him filled her nose, the taste of him her mouth. He was so warm and wet and
than she could remember anyone ever being. She fumbled handfuls of damp canvas off his shoulders to hold on, as if otherwise she’d somehow fall through the seat or the passenger-side door holding her up, fall right out into the rain. She imagined that his shoulders were broad enough, strong enough to hold on to through any storm. Too soon, he drew back to nibble at her lower lip, then to pull back from the kiss entirely. His eyes searched hers, but she wasn’t sure for what.

“That part doesn’t suck either,” he admitted, his voice rough.

She shook her head in agreement. No, it didn’t suck. She wanted to say something witty about men being after Just One Thing, or how she might want a lot more chauffeuring at those rates, but speech didn’t come easily even when she concentrated. With the distraction of him, right here…

“—back in a little over an hour,” called a faint voice, past the rain. Trace’s gaze lifted from Sibyl to the house. Sibyl twisted around to see, only realizing as his fingers drew off her that at some point he’d captured her waist. Greta Kaiser, complete with oversize umbrella, made her careful way down the house’s front steps and toward the waiting car.

Trace cursed, kissed Sibyl quickly on the forehead and got out of the driver’s side to go help. After blinking in the sudden silence—silence except for the rain and heater and wipers—Sibyl clambered over the seatback, so that Greta could ride shotgun. The temporary distance gave her a much-needed sanity break. This was
the way pretending was supposed to work!

And yet the longer the day lasted—Trace dropping her and Greta off, then picking them up again. Mitch sharing a delicious stew dinner afterward with them. All of them watching an old video together, with Sibyl comfortably tucked between Trace and the sofa’s arm, marveling at the simple warmth and comfort of his nearness. The more time she spent with him, the more time she spent
in contact
with him, the harder it got to remember. She didn’t really like Trace Beaudry-LaSalle. She
like Trace Beaudry-LaSalle. To do so would betray her father’s memory, would betray the little, lost Isabel Daine that she’d once been.

She’d survived, as Sibyl, for one purpose only—a purpose that liking Trace could only complicate. To learn the truth—and to expose the whole damned society with it. See:

So why didn’t she feel more relieved when Trace took a call on his cell phone, and immediately looked guilty as he rolled to his feet and headed out for the hall? “Greta, you got a pen?” he called.

“In the kitchen, dear,” Greta responded, preparing to stand.

Sibyl stopped her and went herself, getting the pen from the countertop container. When she handed it to Trace, he wouldn’t quite meet her gaze.

“1217 East Pacific,” he murmured, clearly repeating the caller’s information as he wrote the address on his arm. “Tomorrow. 10:00 p.m. Got it.” Silence. “Yeah. ’Course.”

Then he disconnected—and looked at her. He seemed unhappy.

Sibyl cocked her head. She feared that if she asked him what was going on, he couldn’t miss her nefarious motives. He would immediately realize that she was trying to get close to him only to uncover information about his relationship with his birth father. He wouldn’t want to spend time with her anymore.

“Got a job,” he admitted, returning the pen. “It’s nothing.”

She nodded, even as she thought:
If it’s nothing, why are you looking so guilty?

And what kind of a job starts so late at night?

And why don’t I feel validated, to have this kind of lead?

Climbing back onto the sofa beside him, curling into the space under his arm and against his ribs, she didn’t have as hard a time differentiating the fantasy of liking him from the reality of spying on him.

But spying on him felt nowhere near as satisfying.

The very next time she saw Trace Beaudry, he’d unleashed his inner beast—and was pummeling another man into a bloody pulp.

Chapter 5

veryone has their natural talents.

Trace Beaudry’s was beating the crap out of people. People who asked for it, anyway. He’d grown up big for his age, the kid that other boys targeted to prove their toughness. Having no dad in the picture hadn’t helped.

Learning to fight sure had.

Even his freshman year of high school, before Judge LaSalle had pulled up outside his ma’s double-wide in his fine town car to change their lives, Trace had done well on the school wrestling team. When most of the athletics at his new, college prep school turned out to be posh, stuck-up crap like golf and dressage and sculling, Trace had found a home with wrestling, boxing and martial arts. Maybe he hadn’t had the education or the temperament for LaSalle’s upper-crust world. Hell, he’d felt like an oversize, brain-damaged hick most of the time until Smith, Mitch and Quinn befriended him—and sometimes even after that. But he could always channel his frustrations into good, honest violence.

Nothing but his body and endurance and willpower versus another man’s body and endurance and willpower. Simple as that.

And, in the case of illegal, NHB fighting? Nowadays he could make a hefty wad of cash, too. That’s because no-holds-barred fights were being driven deeper and deeper underground, until even the states that allowed them—like Texas—ended up enforcing more and more rules, barring holds beyond the original three taboos of groin strikes, bites and eye-gouging. That made them holds-barred fights, and nowhere near as fun for the cheering, hooting crowds. People came to NHB fights for “the damage.”

Whether on the giving or receiving end, so did fighters like Trace.

His first opponent in the warehouse that night was a Latino named Emilio, smaller than him in weight and height. That could have made Trace feel like a big bully, except that Emilio was a freakin’ kickboxer, and a damned fast one at that. Trace had once seen a kickboxer take down a sumo wrestler in a matter of seconds. None of his size or strength was worth squat if he couldn’t get close enough to the guy to grab him.

The crowd cheered and hooted, but the fighters only saw each other. They circled the fenced, octagonal cage, Emilio flying at Trace feetfirst, Trace doing his damnedest to catch one of the guy’s feet in midair. So far, Emilio had kicked him in the ribs, grazed his freakin’ forehead and slammed into his thigh—a few inches lower, and Trace wouldn’t have a working knee. Trace had caught one of Emilio’s kicks, but not good enough to hold on. When he compromised by throwing the guy, his opponent rolled out of the way before Trace could pin him against the chain link. Barefooted, bare-knuckled—bare everything except for what their shorts covered—the two men circled. Emilio favored his left shoulder, where Trace had thrown him. Trace favored his right leg. Both grinned at each other like bloodthirsty animals, glad for the chance to see just what they were made of.

For the weirdest moment, Trace had a non-memory of doing the same thing with large, valuable swords.
Somewhere in the countryside, weighted by leather armor and heavy helmets…

He snapped back fast enough when Emilio came at him with another flurry of murderous kicks. Instead of dancing back again, Trace dodged around them and tackled his opponent, hard, to the floor. A quick tightening of his hold, and yeah—the kickboxer, deadly legs trapped beneath their combined weight, was his.

“Submit!” Trace snarled, and started walloping the guy. Hell, it was disrespectful, not just to the crowd but to his opponent and to himself, to do anything but beat the crap out of him. Emilio could stop it anytime. He could tap out. Everyone tapped out eventually.

Emilio curled protectively into himself, snarling back something in Spanish.

Trace hit him again, a kidney shot. Nothing but a grunt. Again. Both their bodies lurched at the force of the blows. The crowd seemed frenzied. Emilio just laughed through his own pain, so Trace hit him again—

Which is when he heard it. A single cry.

Somehow, through the cheering and the booing. Through the smoke and cell phone rings. Through his and Emilio’s grunts and gasping breaths. Through his own rushing blood and pounding heart.

Somehow, Trace knew that voice.


That’s all it took, that momentary break in concentration. Somehow Emilio got an arm loose and, worse, hooked it around Trace’s neck and began squeezing. Now Trace began to hit him faster, trying to break his hold, but his opponent stayed dogged. Trace’s blows began to loose power, and…


With a body-shaking thud, he fell to his side on the dirty warehouse floor, and for a moment he thought he saw her face, small and pale and Faline-eyed in horror, amidst the wild crowd. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want her to see him like this.

Then everything went black.

Not everyone tapped out, after all.

“Are you certain you wish to get out here?” demanded the cabdriver in his thick, Middle Eastern accent.

Sibyl counted out the correct number of bills, plus a tip. “Yes.”

“I would not wish to get out here,” insisted the cabbie. And yes. With the exception of a surprising number of cars and pickups parked at the side of the road and in a vacant lot, the old warehouse district beside the Fairpark neighborhood felt dingy and deserted.

And dark, thought Sibyl, amusing herself with alliteration. And dangerous. “I wish to.”

“I cannot wait for you here,” he told her as she paid, and even looked sorry for that.

“No,” agreed Sibyl, getting out. “Thank you.”

Then the cab drove away, and she stood alone, her senses on alert. Otherwise, she wasn’t particularly frightened. Growing up in a hellhole tended to readjust one’s sense of real threat. People who actively trolled the streets, looking for prey, would find better hunting grounds than this. No, these men would have come for other purposes.

Sibyl’s spy-against-the-Comitatus side saw infinite possibilities here, most of them scandalous. Was Trace dealing drugs? Moving stolen property? Could LaSalle be involved?

Disreputable. Dishonest.

In contrast, the confused-by-her-feelings Sibyl wanted this to be a mistake. Because Trace wasn’t dishonest, no matter how much LaSalle blood flowed through his veins. No matter how guilty he’d looked on making this mysterious assignation. At least…she didn’t want him to be dishonest. But if wishing could change things, her father would still be alive. She would never have accepted the scholarship to the New Orleans academy. She would have grown up like a normal girl.

She shook her head. “Not physics. Reality doesn’t change based on presence or wishes of observer.” Her old, once-soothing habit of talking to herself, even in a whisper, wasn’t a good sign. She had to get this over with. Like with Schrödinger’s cat, she wouldn’t know how to proceed until she looked in the metaphorical box.

“1217 East Pacific,” she reminded herself—she needn’t write things like that down. She inhaled deeply to settle her nerves, not that she could smell anything be yond city—asphalt, car exhaust, garbage—on the brisk air. She thought she heard something, many voices, shouting. But it faded almost as soon as she placed the thought, and could easily have been the wind it self, rushing through the smattering of distant trees. And…

Someone with lesser instincts might dismiss the sudden, peripheral impression of movement as imagination. Sibyl had lived too long only one mistake away from hurt and humiliation. She headed where she’d sensed the change.

She gave wide berth around the corner of a hulking warehouse, to minimize chances of an ambush, and so got a good view of several men loitering with feigned nonchalance at several points outside a freight doorway. A lookout, she thought of the one nearest her. And of the farthest, nearer the distant railroad tracks? Another lookout.

The third, she couldn’t label so easily.

They certainly saw her. But she clearly didn’t concern them, either in a good or bad way. So she headed closer, one step at a time.

Ah, now she definitely heard strains of a shouting crowd. No real music—not a rave, despite the undertones of illegality. She wished it
a rave, and Trace working as a bouncer or bodyguard, there to help anyone foolish enough to get into trouble with drugs or fights or underage drinking. But no. Muffled cheering. Faint booing. Like…a sporting event. Obviously, to judge from the area, hour and lookouts, a
sporting event.

Cockfighting? Sibyl felt increasingly sick from the narrowing possibilities. Dog fighting? She thought of Greta’s happy, wiggly cocker spaniel, and her stomach clenched. Animals like little Dido were often used as bait to train the real fighting dogs. Despite the futility of wishing, she wished anyway. Please, no, Trace. Please, no.

The man directly in front of the sliding freight door—not unlike the door on her borrowed condo—stepped into her path.

They studied each other.

He stood bigger, wider than Trace, his dark skin and clothes helping him blend into the shadows. The style of his facial hair—thick here, thin there—made no sense to her. One of his jacket pockets sagged, with a gun probably.

BOOK: Underground Warrior
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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