Chapter 1

Dax

I’d never wanted to say anything less than I wanted to say those six words, but I knew my choices were limited. I made a promise to the woman I loved that I would no longer lie or hide things from her, so I had to tell her what I just learned, or she’d never forgive me. And that wasn’t an exaggeration. She told me that lying was the one thing she wouldn’t tolerate.

“Bryne, babe, he has your mom.”

For a moment, I wondered if she even heard me, but then all of the color drained from her face, and I knew she had.

“What?”

The word was small, almost child-like, and in that moment, I hated Booker more than I’d ever hated him or anyone. And I hated myself for bringing Booker into Bryne’s life.

I reached over and took her hands in mine. They were cold, and I lightly rubbed them as I recounted the phone call that’d ended only a few moments before.

“You know how I told you that Booker’s cousin was there when I got shot?”

She nodded.

“Well, I don’t remember a lot of the shit Julius said right before it happened, but it basically boiled down to him thinking that I’d stolen from him. I didn’t know why he thought it, or who was involved. Shit, I still don’t, but something went down. Booker didn’t give me a hell of a lot to go on, but basically, someone stole coke from Julius and his supplier, and he’s accusing Booker.”

Bryne started shaking, and I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her onto my lap as I wrapped the covers around her more securely. I hated this.

“Because I told Georgie and the guys that I was out, Booker believes that I went behind his back and stole the drugs. Now, he’s demanding I trade him the coke for your mom.”

“But you didn’t take it.” Bryne tucked her head under my chin.

“He thinks I did.” I mentally called Booker every unprintable name under the sun. I’d suspected he might’ve been responsible for me getting shot. I’d expected him to threaten my mom, maybe even threaten Bryne again once he heard I’d quit. I never imagined he’d go after Bryne’s mother. He was supposed to be smarter than Georgie, not go off and do half-cocked shit.

Shit like kidnapping a private citizen. A citizen from DC who, according to what I knew about Bryne, had money and political connections. If he had been hoping for a ransom, it still would’ve been a stupid idea. Doing it to trade for drugs was idiotic. The fact that he made such a dumb move meant he was desperate.

“How did he even find her?”

Bryne Dawkins was the sort of woman who had more strength than people suspected at first glance. With her short stature and delicious curves, guys were more likely to drool over her body and ignore her mind, but I knew that’d be a mistake. She was the most amazing person I’d ever met.

And I’d ruined her life.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly and pressed my lips to the top of her head. “I am so sorry, baby.”

Her head nearly clipped my chin when she looked up at me, confusion on her face. “For what?”

“This is my fault.” I rubbed my hand down her arm. She felt so cold. “And I’ll do whatever it takes to get your mom back safely.”

We.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “What?”

We, Dax. Not just you.” Her eyes narrowed. “We’re in this together. Remember?”

I wanted to tell her no, that this was something I needed to handle on my own, but this new step in our relationship was based on trust. Even if my reasons for wanting to keep her out of it were because I wanted to keep her safe, I knew I couldn’t just tell her what to do. She might enjoy me being in charge when it came to sex, but she was independent enough that I knew she’d be pissed if I tried to order her around outside the bedroom.

I tucked a curl behind her ear, then twisted another around my finger. She had gorgeous hair, the color of burnished bronze. Soft skin. Kissable lips. One of those little frown lines between her eyebrows…

Fuck.

I refused to let anything happen to her or her mom. I couldn’t bear the thought of her getting hurt like that because of me.

“I’ll go to the cops,” I said.

“Won’t he hurt–?”

I shook my head. “He never said anything about not involving the cops because he’d never expect me to do that.”

Understanding dawned on her face. “Because if you went to them, they’d want to know why Booker took my mom and what he’s asking for in return. Cocaine.”

I nodded. “I didn’t steal anything, and I’ve never actually been involved in any of the shady shit they pull. I’ll be okay.”

She shook her head, her fingers digging into my arms. “You don’t know that. They could decide to make an example out of you. It happens all the time. Guilt by association. That kind of shit.”

A fresh wave of love washed over me. Her mom had been kidnapped by a gang leader, and she was worried about what would happen to me if I went to the cops.

“Are you sure he even has her?” she asked, hope springing into her eyes. “He could be lying.”

I took a deep breath. “He’s not.” I reached over and picked up my phone. “I wasn’t hiding this from you. Just waiting until the shock had settled.”

I opened the picture Booker had sent me and tightened my arm around Bryne as I handed her my phone. She made a soft sound that cut straight through me as she saw her mom tied to a chair, a copy of Sunday’s paper resting on her lap. I’d only met Allison Dawkins once, but she’d been polished and poised, the sort of woman who appeared to live and breathe class. In the picture, she didn’t look hurt, but she’d definitely fought. Her hair, the same color as Bryne’s, was a total mess, and her pantsuit was dirty and torn. She looked pissed, and that made the resemblance to her daughter even more pronounced.

“Booker said he hasn’t hurt her,” I said quietly.

A tear escaped at last, and I brushed it away, wishing I could erase her pain as easily. I’d known pain, physical and emotional, but nothing like this. Seeing her hurting like this was horrible enough, but the helplessness and guilt that came with it was almost more than I could take.

But I’d take it because she needed me. I’d done this to her, and I had to fix it. No matter what it meant for me.

“I won’t let anything happen to your mom. I’m going to get her back, safe and sound, and no one’s ever going to come after either one of you again.”

The protectiveness I’d felt for her before was nothing compared to this. I’d do anything for Bryne. Die for her. Kill for her. I didn’t care what happened to me, as long as she was safe.

Booker had no idea what he’d gotten himself into when he took Allison, but he’d figure it out soon enough. Whatever it took, I’d make things right.