Chapter One

Bryne

I never considered myself to be one of those people who had a temper or made rash decisions. Even if something looked impulsive – say, losing my virginity to a guy I barely knew – chances were, I’d thought about it beforehand. And I didn’t get angry easily. Sometimes I snapped at people or raised my voice, but I wasn’t the sort of person prone to shouting matches or violence.

But right now, all I wanted to do was find Dax and hit him.

Hard.

When I’d woken up alone less than an hour ago, I wasn’t surprised or upset. That just seemed to be how he did things. If we were in some sort of relationship that extended past sex, it might’ve been an issue, but we weren’t, so it wasn’t. Then Carrie called to ask if I knew where Dax was because he hadn’t gone home last night.

Now, I was mentally cursing him as I pulled my curls back into a messy bun. Not only had he not gone back to his place, he wasn’t answering his phone or responding to any texts, and his mom was worried. And since I was the last person to see him, Carrie wanted to talk to me in person. Which meant I was about to meet Dax’s mother with wet hair while wearing yesterday’s clothes.

Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods when I went out into the brutal cold to wait for my car. Carrie had already contacted the on-call family driver, but I still had to wait a couple minutes before he arrived. My teeth were chattering, and my hair felt like ice as I climbed into the backseat. As we began to move, I let myself start to think about all the things I’d pushed aside while I showered and dressed.

Things like Carrie and Dax’s mom being worried that he was in trouble. The sick feeling I got in my stomach when I thought about him not wanting to tell me about the mutual friend he and Cleo had gone to meet earlier this week. The gut reaction I had to his friends at the shop.

I didn’t know if Georgie or those other guys had anything to do with where Dax was or why he wasn’t taking his mother’s calls, but they were the first people I thought of when Carrie said that she was worried.

No, that was a lie. They weren’t the first who came to mind. Cleo was. They’d hooked up in the past, and no matter what he said to me about it being over, she clearly hadn’t accepted that. I didn’t want to consider her being a factor because I didn’t want to think that he could’ve gone with her willingly. At the same time, I seriously doubted she could’ve forced him. I didn’t see Dax being the kind of guy who got intimidated by a gun or knife.

Unless she hurt him, and the reason he wasn’t answering the phone was because he couldn’t.

I wasn’t sure which was worse. Thinking that he could’ve gone with her because he wanted to, or thinking that she’d hurt him badly enough that he was unable to answer his phone. I supposed he could’ve had another meeting that he didn’t want to talk about, but that wasn’t a good option either.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. I’d felt great when I woke up. Okay, a little sore considering the sex Dax and I had last night hadn’t been even close to gentle. My nipples were so sensitive that the pressure from my bra was almost painful, and the low throbbing between my legs reminded me both of how hard he’d driven into me, and how much I’d been stretched by his delicious cock.

“Dammit, Dax,” I muttered as I pulled out my phone to see if he’d responded to my voicemail or text. Still nothing. “Answer your damn phone.”

“Did you need something, miss?”

I jerked my head up, startled. I’d forgotten I wasn’t actually alone. While there was a partition that could separate the front from the back, providing some privacy, I hadn’t asked the driver to put it up, and now he was giving me a concerned look.

“I’m fine,” I lied. “How much longer?”

“About ten minutes,” he said. “It’s only a couple miles to Mrs. Manning’s office, but the traffic will cost us a few extra minutes.”

It was only now I realized that he wasn’t taking me home. While I fully intended to get my own place, I’d been in the city less than a month. Since my new-found uncle and his wife didn’t mind me using the guest room in their loft, I was taking my time deciding where I wanted to live.

I’d never been to Carrie’s office, and if the circumstances had been different, I would’ve been intrigued. As it was, I could barely manage basic curiosity about the place where my aunt was practicing law, despite how interesting I found the subject.

She was a divorce attorney before she and Gavin met. Now, she worked against human trafficking. I’d asked how she did that since she was a private lawyer and not a prosecutor like her friend Dena, and she’d explained that she dealt with the civil side of things. Getting solicitation charges overturned so former sex workers could apply for jobs without criminal records. Filing lawsuits against pimps and others who owned or used slaves in order to seize their assets and have them distributed among the victims. She occasionally did other types of lawsuits where people were being taken advantage of, often free of charge. I was already planning on discussing helping fund some of those cases with the inheritance my great-grandparents had left me but hadn’t had a chance yet.

If my life continued to be this crazy, I doubted free time was anywhere in my near future. While I was thrilled to be the romantic lead in an amazing off-Broadway production just weeks after moving here from DC, I couldn’t deny that everything was happening so fast that it was making my head spin.

And that wasn’t even taking the whole Dax thing into account.

“We’re here, Miss Bryne,” the driver said as the car came to a stop. “Would you like me to stay nearby to take you to rehearsal?”

Shit. Rehearsal. I’d completely forgotten about it. Fortunately, today was all about costume fitting, so I wasn’t missing anything this morning.

“I can come back at eleven-thirty if you’d like.”

“Thank you,” I said. “That would be great.”

I gave him a smile before I climbed out of the car, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Now that I was here, the reality of the situation was setting in. I wasn’t even sure how much I was supposed to be worrying. It wasn’t like he was my boyfriend. If I’d had a regular rehearsal today, I doubted I would’ve been able to call off or even arrive late.

That didn’t, however, mean that I would’ve been able to concentrate, so I was extra glad that I wasn’t expected to do anything today that required any sort of concentration. I was also pretty sure that I had the least complicated costume, which meant I shouldn’t have to be there too long. My limited experience with the theaters in DC had been enough to know that this wasn’t how practice schedules usually went, but I wasn’t going to complain. It made things a bit easier.

Well, as easy as this could be.

Since Carrie’s law practice consisted of only her, the office was fairly small but nice. When I walked inside, a petite, dark-haired woman was at the coffee maker. She turned and gave me a wide smile.

“You must be Bryne.” She held out a hand. “I’m Zoe Masters, Carrie’s assistant.” After we shook, she added, “Carrie’s waiting for you in her office.” She gestured toward the door directly behind her.

“Thank you.” I gave a light rap on the door, and it opened a moment later.

Carrie looked tired as she stepped aside to let me in, and I didn’t think it was the pregnancy. My guess was, the worried-looking woman sitting a couple feet away was the reason for my aunt’s exhaustion. Even without the obvious connection, I didn’t need Carrie to tell me that I was looking at Annabeth Prevot. Dax had the same dark hair and similar enough features for the relation to be obvious.

“Annabeth, this is my niece, Bryne.”

As she raised her head, I saw a pair of eyes that were a little bluer than Dax’s, but close enough to make my heart give a painful twist. She managed a weak smile.

“So you’re the girl who’s been spending so much time with my Dax.”

“I am.” I wondered how much he’d told her about me, but this wasn’t the time to ask. “You still haven’t heard from him?”

Annabeth shook her head. “It’s not like him.” She gave me a hard look. “I’m not naive. I know that Dax isn’t an angel. But he’s always been protective of me, especially since my accident.”

“Accident?” I asked, then remembered Carrie telling me about Dax’s mom getting hurt at work, then her company firing her.

“It’s a long story,” Annabeth continued. “But anyway, Dax has been great, taking care of me. That’s why it doesn’t make sense that he isn’t answering my calls or texts.”

I had to admit, she was right. It didn’t make sense when she put it all together like that. I’d seen how protective he was with me, and I knew his mother was way more important to him.

“So when you woke up this morning, Dax was gone?” Carrie asked.

The blood rushed to my face, and that earned a soft chuckle from both women.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Annabeth said with a better smile than she’d given me before. “I might be a mom, but I’m still a woman. I know how girls look at him, and I’m not foolish enough to think he doesn’t look back.”

“We were at a hotel last night, and he left before I woke up,” I said, not wanting to think about all of the women he’d looked back at. According to something Carrie had said once, he was five years older than me, and I was pretty sure he’d started having sex younger than nineteen, so there were definitely more women than I cared to count.

Annabeth’s expression said that she didn’t approve, but before I could worry that she was directing it at me, she said, “I taught him better than that.”

I wasn’t about to tell her that it wasn’t the first time he’d done it. I steered the subject in a different direction by bringing up what I hadn’t wanted to say over the phone. “Is it possible he’s with Cleo?”

Annabeth’s eyebrows shot up. “That girl who went to jail for assault?”

I tried not to let her see how much it hurt that she knew who Cleo was. Dax said they hadn’t been serious. Judging by the look Annabeth gave me, I wasn’t fooling anyone.

“The incident took place near the shop,” she explained. “I saw an article about it in the paper, and when I asked him, he told me he knew the girl. I thought she was in jail.”

“She got out a few weeks ago,” I said. “I actually met her very briefly. They went to see a mutual friend the other night. Could that be where Dax is?”

Annabeth let out a string of soft curses, and I saw the same intensity in her eyes that I’d seen in Dax’s, increasing the likeness between the two of them.

“Do you know something, Annabeth?” Carrie asked.

“No,” she said. “But if that girl is involved, it can’t be good.”

Well, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

 

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