An Assassin Prequel
I knew the minute I saw him that Levi Agozi was too perfect to be real. I didn't care. He came to me, asked for me, and, dazzled by his dark good looks and the bad-boy aura surrounding him, I gave in. Willingly.
My father is set to become the next governor of Georgia, and he'll use me to get there if he has to. He'll hand me over, virginity and all, to the man with the biggest bank account and political pull.
I wanted something more.
I wanted Levi. And I had him—until I woke up, drugged and confused, at his mercy. He’s a bad boy, all right. A sexy, deadly assassin. And I'm the pawn torn between him and my father, two powerful men intent on destroying each other.
I might not understand their war, but I do understand one thing: no matter who wins, I lose.
I’m not sure what I expected. I’d been to bars, but not the kind of bars with pool tables and smoke haze and men on the prowl for a one-night stand. The bars I’d been to specialized in cocktail hours and old men in business suits. The Full Moon wasn’t refined or elegant or quiet.
It was everything I was not. Exactly where I needed to be tonight.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked. He was staring at Candy’s breasts, but she didn’t seem to mind, just flashed him a sexier version of her friendly smile. Had she slept with him before?
It was Renee who answered. “Pitcher of strawberry margaritas, Dave.”
“Make that two,” Candy tacked on.
Dave the Bartender nodded at her cleavage. “I’ll send ’em right over.”
I followed my friends through the crowd toward a table Sarah had snagged while we ordered. The three women obviously had a routine. I’d known they were close, and the fact that they’d extended their little circle to include me from the first day we met in Nursing 101 class had touched me in ways they couldn’t possibly understand. They were normal girls with normal lives and normal homes. I wasn’t, but if they’d noticed, they didn’t mention it. No flicker of recognition at my name, no questions about where I lived or why I never went out when they invited me. Just basic friendship, no strings attached.
They had no idea how rare that was.
“So, Abby, see anything interesting?”
Too much, actually. Heat flushed my cheeks. “Um…”
Sarah giggled. “Wait till she’s got at least one margarita in her, Renee. Then ask.” She bumped my shoulder with hers. “The selection always looks better the later it gets.”
The selection already looked pretty good to me. Most of the men were our age—early twenties—and not a suit and tie to be found. Jeans and half-buttoned shirts and messily styled hair were the go-to. A tattooed forearm or the wink of an earring wasn’t rare. Beers in hand, the men joshed each other while prowling the room, hungry gazes assessing each woman they came to. One by one they’d peel off with their choice, either to the dance floor or a table or the front door.
What was it like to be the women they chose? In the circles my family required me to frequent, the barrier of my father’s name and status kept men away from me. Here, there were no barriers except my friends and my own insecurities. The idea that I could choose to ignore both and do whatever I wanted quickened my breath. Either I was excited or about to hyperventilate; I wasn’t certain which.
I refused to let the terror win anymore.
The margaritas arrived and we each poured ourselves one. The fruity yet tart liquid set my tongue alight like a sparkler on the Fourth of July, a pleasure I hadn’t experienced before. I savored it as I listened to the girls’ giggling commentary about each man who walked by. It wasn’t long before the room went hazy with something other than smoke and I found myself joining in the conversation without reservation.
I was pouring my second margarita when my phone vibrated in my back pocket. Two shorts, one long: my father. A healthy gulp helped bolster my confidence before I pulled the cell out for a look.
I shouldn’t respond, shouldn’t care, but I clicked on the message anyway, just to see. Maybe he’d changed his mind. Maybe he was worried about me. Maybe he wanted to apologize, tell me he loved me for once in twenty-one years.
Where the hell are you?
Or maybe not. I returned the phone to my pocket.
Sarah leaned close, her voice low. “Everything okay?”
Renee and Candy were focused on the table of men to their right. I gave Sarah a wry smile. “My dad.” I took another drink. “It’ll blow over, I’m sure.”
Sarah laid her hand over mine on the table and squeezed. The gesture mesmerized me. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched me because they cared. How sad was that?
My phone buzzed again. I ignored it.
Sarah’s hand left mine to grasp her drink. She took a gulp, her gaze trained somewhere over Candy’s head. I followed it.
Holy shit is right.
The man was tall, dark, and dangerous with a capital D. I’d never seen anyone like him, anyone who made my insides clench just looking at him. Thick dark hair, long on top and shaved close on the sides, highlighted perfect ears and a jaw chiseled from granite. His eyes seemed too light for that hair and his olive skin, shining like spotlights beneath dark brows, almost too intense to bear. And those lips. God. They hinted at sensual pleasures I could only guess at.
He prowled across the room, a lean, muscular panther intent on prey—every woman’s fantasy, including mine.
And he was headed straight for us.
My gaze dropped to my drink. The tables around us held either men or couples, so I wasn’t mistaken about his focus. Which girl was he interested in? Sarah with her sweet smile? Or maybe Candy, with her unabashed sensuality?
An empty glass stared back at me. I reached for the pitcher.
My hand froze on the handle as the words quivered through my body. Look up! Look at him! But I couldn’t; I could only sit there like a dumbass holding the pitcher in my shaking grip and praying I didn’t make a fool of myself.
No fear, remember?
No fear. I tightened my grip, lifted. So far, so good. Somehow I managed to pour a fresh drink without spilling, replace the pitcher on the table. Despite the sick pounding of my heart in my throat, I made myself glance up.
Gray eyes locked with mine.
Lord, he’s beautiful.
I expected him to look away, to focus on one of the other women. He didn’t. He stared—at me. Until the urge to squirm crawled up my spine and my cheeks burst into flames.
Was that my voice, all breathy and…suggestive? It must’ve been; the other girls were staring, silent, their round eyes just as awed as I’m sure mine were. I looked back to the man looming over our table.
He reached a hand out to me. “I’m Levi.”
My fingers settled into his grip like they had been created to fit him. “Abby.”
My voice cracked. I cleared my throat.
“Hi, Abby.” He didn’t let go of my hand, didn’t glance around. Just held me captive with those intense eyes. “Would you dance with me?”
I barely managed not to say it aloud. Instead I looked to Sarah, who was frantically nodding. “Uh, okay. Sure.”
Could I be any more awkward if I tried? Where was the vaunted hostess who demurely handled every crisis that arose?
Maybe she’d died along with the dream that someday, somehow, my father would see me as his daughter and not his pawn.
Levi tugged on my hand, urging me to my feet. My body responded to his command automatically, breaking through the nerves that had held me frozen. I didn’t want to be frozen, not anymore. And I didn’t want to miss this, not a minute of it.
I killed my first man at the age of twelve. I've been killing ever since. I thought it was all I lived for…until Abby. Until the woman I'd kidnapped became the woman I couldn't walk away from.
She owns a piece of me I wouldn't take back, but the rest? The only way to protect her is to hold back the parts inside me that are too ugly to ever reveal. I'll keep her safe, even from me.
And it works. We have the nights, and I hunt my way through the days. Alone.
Until an attack reveals a threat we didn't see coming. One that could take away the dream I didn't realize I had.
Everything. With her.
I'm on the hunt of my life. My prey might run, but in this fight—for her, for us—they don't stand a chance.
The silken sheets caressed her skin, revealing more than they concealed. Too damn much for my peace of mind. I should be out there, on the hunt, but Abby tethered me to her like a fucking chain, refusing to let go. No matter how much safer she was without me.
A gasp escaped her, and she turned on her side, one hand reaching out, searching—for me. “Levi?”
The room was dark, her eyes glazed with sleep. She couldn’t see me in the shadows. It was better that way, but I couldn’t leave her searching. Something inside me, something I both hated and hungered for, held as tightly to her as she did to me.
With a curse I couldn’t quite hold back, I moved to the bed. And felt it the minute she saw me—my body lit up like I’d touched a live wire. Just like it did when prey appeared, every instinct sparking, every sense zeroed in on the body before me. Only I didn’t want to kill this one.
I wanted her life in my hands, not her death.
A smile touched her full lips when my knee settled on the bed. Sheets rustled as she shifted onto her back, tugging me closer with nothing more than her creamy skin and the curve of her mouth. “There you are.” The curve slowly flattened. “You’re dressed.”
Because it’s safer this way. Because I can’t sleep beside you and not let you all the way inside me.
I grabbed my T-shirt at the back of my neck and pulled. “Not for long.”
I stripped as I crawled onto the bed. Crouching over Abby’s body, I let the hunger for her take over, felt it in the tensing of my muscles, the lengthening of my cock, the racing of my heartbeat. A visceral reaction I was addicted to. That’s all it was. She was my drug, and I’d never get enough. Not till it killed me. I just had to make sure it didn’t kill her first.
“You should be asleep, little bird,” I growled down at her.
Her eyes left mine, focused somewhere over my shoulder. Telling me all I needed to know. Another nightmare. Less frequent now, but they’d never go away. I knew that from personal experience.
“I never sleep as well when you’re not beside me.”
Another link clicked onto my chain, choking me with the need to reassure her. I’ll always be here. I need you beside me to sleep at all. I crave your skin against mine until I sometimes think I’ll go insane.
I didn’t say any of it. I couldn’t. The risk was too high.
So I kissed her.
Abby opened to me, a needy flower, defenseless, so fucking innocent even now. I remembered the first time I’d taken her, the first time she’d let me inside, and a groan escaped into her mouth. Her tight fit, the resistance I’d had to force myself through… Just the memory broke me out in a sweat.
I should hate myself for corrupting her. I did hate myself. But it felt more like she’d corrupted me. With her sweetness, her fire. It made me weak when I couldn’t afford to be. But I couldn’t break free either.
Forcing myself back onto my knees, I fisted the sheet and pulled. A slow reveal—nipples, belly, that strip of auburn hair that pointed me straight to the entrance of her body. As if I could ever lose my way. The thought tightened the chain again, choking off my breath.
And then I looked into her eyes. Knowledge glittered there, too much for her own good. Every day it grew; every day she looked at me and that damn knowing was there. She knew my fear, but she never asked for more than I’d already given. Never asked for a commitment. Or if I loved her. As if she knew a yes would damn us both.
For the longest moment I wavered there, on the edge of leaving, fighting the bastard inside me that insisted I stay, the sight of her laid out before me searing my brain. And then Abby shifted, her legs parting, and the scent of her need filled my nose. The balance tipped. An agonized groan rumbled from my brain to my chest and out of my mouth.
I was between her legs before my next heartbeat.
Cream and spice, that was Abby on my tongue. I pressed my mouth to her pussy and pushed deep, seeking out every drop. Filling my senses with her until I knew I was drowning. Her skin was slick velvet against my lips, my tongue, her clit a hard bead against my nose. I licked up, took it into my mouth, and sucked hard, that primal need to nurse, to take my nourishment from her, hitting me like a bullet to the chest. She filled me, sustained me—with her body, her desire, the hungry cries echoing in my ears, the greedy fingers forcing my head closer. Her body and her mouth begged me for more, and I gave it, again and again and again until she exploded beneath my tongue.
I was inside her before the last ripple faded.
“Levi, God, yes!”
My cock was so heavy, so tight inside her hot, wet body. Too much. Not enough. When her seeking hands landed on my chest and slid downward, I knew this would be over before it had a chance to begin, and no way in hell could I allow that.
“No.” Her wrists were fragile in my rough hands, but I forced them back anyway, slamming them to the bed as Abby cried out beneath me. “Look at me, little bird. Now.”
Frantic, pleading hazel eyes snapped to mine. Abby rolled her pelvis, taking me deeper. “Please.”
“Look at me,” I demanded. “Don’t close your eyes.”
I pulled back, the drag of her body around my cock so perfect my eyes threatened to roll back in my head. Leveraging my knees out, I slammed back inside. Abby gasped my name, and I did it again. And again. Those beautiful eyes glazed over, going somewhere deep inside herself where hunger and pleasure roared for satisfaction, taking me with her. Letting me see what no one else had ever seen—Abby, bare, open, completely vulnerable. To me. Alive like no one I’d ever known before, filling and feeding the dead parts of me that I’d long ago given up hope of ever healing. She could; she did. With her body and her honesty.
I’d never met anyone like her before. And I knew it was only a matter of time before I destroyed her.
Without warning her eyes flared, her legs bending to hook around my hips, pulling me closer. She chanted my name, high and desperate, and I angled my hips up, the head of my cock striking that spot deep inside that made her clench around me, so tight I had to force my way back in. And I did.
My name morphed into a scream on her lips as she climaxed around me. Squeezed me tight and sucked every last drop of semen from my willing body.
The relaxing of her muscles beneath mine drew me out of the fog of pleasure a few minutes later. I raised my head from her neck, glanced down. Abby blinked, her expression smoothing out, but not before I caught a glimpse of the emotions there—longing, desperation, pain. My failure, all in one look. But it was how it had to be.
“I have to go.”
Before she could respond, I was up and headed to the bathroom. I cleaned myself up, wiping away the evidence of her pleasure and mine, thankful that with Abby’s birth control, condoms were no longer an issue. I could be skin to skin with her, mark her, smear my semen over her body so that no other man would dare to trespass on my territory. I needed it. The animal inside me needed it, demanded it. With her I could soothe the savage hunger.
But no kids. Ever.
I returned to the bed with a warm washcloth. Abby parted her legs willingly. When she was clean, I leaned down until my nose met her pubic hair, and breathed deep. My Abby. My woman!the animal inside me roared. But the man restricted me to a brief kiss on her sensitive clit before backing away.
Abby’s murmur of disappointment was a knife to the gut.
“I’ll lock up before I leave,” I told her.
She lay, silent, on the bed, legs bent, body gleaming in the faint light from the crack in the curtains, and watched me return the cloth to the bathroom, check the windows, and walk to the door. I’d melted into the shadows before I heard her voice. “What about a kiss goodbye?”
I couldn’t deny her, not when my body screamed for the kiss too. I returned to the bed, let the covers caress her skin once again as I drew them over her. “Sleep, little bird.”
Her kiss was the padlock on the chain that held me to her. I welcomed it in that moment—delved deep to tangle with her tongue, nipped her lips, buried my face in the hollow of her neck and the sweet scent of vanilla and flowers.
“Be safe,” she murmured as I backed away.
And then I was out the door. Every window, every door was checked, secured—I wouldn’t risk anything happening when I wasn’t here. The shadows in the backyard were deep this time of night, but unmoving. Same on either side of the house. When I walked out the front door and set the security system to on, I did so knowing she was safe inside.
So why did my soul scream at me to go back with every step I took away from her?
My brother believes he made me a killer. The truth is, I’ve always been different. I can smile while sliding a knife between your ribs—and not feel a moment of regret.
A man like me shouldn’t have a family. But the minute I opened my eyes from a coma and saw her, I knew I’d forever be tied to her. A nurse who nurtures life. A mother.
I’ve stalked her for two years, unable to stop but refusing to give in to the need to have her. To love her. Until the night her daughter is taken. I’ll light up the world to get Leah’s child back to her.
And then I’ll walk away for good. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because I know how she’ll look at me after seeing who I truly am.
She’ll see the murderer inside me. And God help me, but she’ll be right.
Brown sugar and butter melted on my tongue, bringing a groan to my lips as I waited in the gloomy garage. Abby’s oatmeal molasses cookies. The vague memories of my mother baking when Levi, Eli, and I were children didn’t include the flavors of finished cookies, but if the memories were heaven, oatmeal molasses cookies would have to be in there somewhere.
I took another bite.
I’d popped the last bit into my mouth when I caught sight of her. Fulton County Memorial needed actual fucking lighting in here to keep their employees safe, but even in the dim light I knew it was Leah coming out of the elevator onto the third floor of the parking garage. My Leah. Everything inside me stood up and took notice, like a live wire buzzing through my veins. Lighting up every nook and cranny of my body. That’s what she did to me every. Damn. Time.
Shifting to ease the suddenly tight stretch of denim across my dick, I picked up another cookie. Leah walked toward an old Toyota Camry with a booster seat in the back. A reliable car for a woman who didn’t make much despite her long hours and compassion. Compassionate people rarely earned what they deserved; it was the bastards like me that got ahead in this world. I waited for her to pull toward the down ramp, just out of sight, then shoved the rest of the cookie in my mouth, cranked my nondescript SUV, and followed.
Atlanta traffic was a bitch any time of day, but trying to get out of town in the evening... She’d have no chance to lose me, even if she knew I was behind her. Gridlock had us inching our way south, and from the way she rode her brakes, I knew she was as impatient as I to escape it. For far different reasons, but still. Her reason had blonde hair identical to hers, shades of yellow, caramel, and brown mingling together to provide a rich depth that made my fingers itch to touch it. Brown eyes just like hers too.
The child was six, I knew that. I knew her name and everything important about her, just like I did her mother. Not that either of them would ever know.
This far back, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of those brown eyes in the rearview mirror. I wished I could. Every time I fucking saw her, I ached to stare into those eyes. They’d mesmerized me from the first moment I looked into them, drugged and disoriented from the coma, but Leah’s dark eyes had stared down at me, grounded me, settled the fear in my gut.
There was nothing to settle the fear now, because that fear was reality—I’d never look into those eyes again. I would ache for her until I died, but I wouldn’t give in. Leah and her child deserved a lot more in this life than a man with blood on his hands.
My cell rang as we exited the freeway at Union City. Leah’s car headed west while I debated answering. I knew who was calling, and I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me. He never was lately. Not that I gave a rat’s ass, but I had no desire to waste time arguing.
I finally pressed the button on the console and answered. “Yeah?”
“Did the intel on our target pan out?”
No hi, how are ya? or even how’s it hanging, bro? Levi was all business except on the rare occasions that his girlfriend, Abby, could trick him out of it. He’d raised me since I was ten, so I was used to it.
“It panned out,” I told him. Butch Clarkson was definitely an abusive asshole. I didn’t know who’d put a hit out on him, but he deserved everything he’d had coming his way. His wife was currently in a long-term care facility from a “fall down the stairs” that hadn’t been an accident after all.
“Fine. Eli will start tracking his movements so we can—”
The silence that followed my words was heavy. Tense. Angry. And didn’t faze me in the slightest.
“Why shouldn’t I bother, Remi?”
“Because I took care of it.” Clarkson would never throw another woman down the stairs. His associates wouldn’t care, but I did.
Curses filtered through the speakers of the SUV. I barely paid attention, more interested in the little red Camry slowing ahead to turn into a neighborhood that was showing its age. The houses were a long commute from her work, smaller, with a bit more yard than new construction, but solid. Leah chose wisely, on a lot of things.
“I don’t trust promises from men like you.”
“Why the fuck would you do a job without full intel and without backup?” Levi growled, pulling me back from memories I should’ve buried a long time ago. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
The thought didn’t bother me as much as it should have—a warning sign in my business. I brushed it off with a mental shrug. “I saw an opportunity and I took it. I knew all I needed to know.”
“What I know is you have a fucking death wish. You’re taking too many chances, Remi. You know better than that. I taught you better than that.”
You taught me a lot of things, big brother. Unfortunately lessons couldn’t make you feel when all you wanted was to stop feeling.
I slowed, taking the same turn Leah had taken, far enough behind that she wouldn’t notice. When she left the main road that bisected the neighborhood, I turned off my headlights and followed.
“This has got to stop, Remi.”
Levi’s words jerked me out of the fantasy of belonging in this little neighborhood with a woman and a little girl who deserved far better than me. He was right, too; he had no idea how right.
“You’re risking too much and you know it. I can’t lose you, brother. Either you rein it in or—”
My words were deadly quiet. I could feel Levi’s shock in the silence after them, knew he understood what I was saying—there was nothing he could do to stop me. I worked with my brothers because I wanted to, not because it was necessary.
The silence ticked by with the passing of car after car parked in front of each square of idealized domesticity. Levi finally spoke.
“Look, I love you; you know that. I even understand where you are coming from.”
Because he knew about Leah. Or rather, about a woman; he didn’t know her identity.
His voice went from gruff to dark and deadly, much as mine had been moments before. “But Remi, if you don’t curb yourself, if you put Eli and Abby in danger, I will take care of business, don’t you doubt it. I won’t want to, but I will.”
I didn’t doubt it one bit. Levi would storm through hell to keep his woman safe. I knew because I felt the same. “Noted.”
I clicked to end the call before either one of us could say something we really would regret—or before Levi could. I’d gone far beyond regret even before I took care of Mr. Wife Beater Clarkson.
Leah had parked in the driveway of a small gray house with weathered white trim. I pulled into a spot in front of a house catty-corner to hers, at just the right angle that I could see her fumbling to gather her things and get out of her car. I could see her walking up the sidewalk, her curves pulling my gaze down her body as she moved. I could see her sidestep to avoid the crack at the turn in the pavement just before the steps up to her porch. I didn’t need to see any of it—I had watched her so many times that I knew each move by heart—yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
And because I was watching, because I knew her body language better than my own, I saw the moment she hesitated outside the front entrance. Saw her keys fall from her hand to patter on the concrete before she yanked on the screen door.
Something wasn’t right.
I was out of my car and crossing the street, heart pounding to the rhythm of my running feet, without a moment’s hesitation. Leah’s name escaped my lips over and over again, a mantra against the jacked-up fear I couldn’t escape, no matter how irrational. It had been a single moment, one fleeting glimpse, but something inside me—instinct, paranoia, I didn’t know what—said this wasn’t irrational at all.
Put me in front of a gun with a round in the chamber and a finger on the trigger and my breath wouldn’t even hitch. But Leah in danger? There was plenty of hitching. And swearing. And pleading with whatever spirit ruled the universe to keep her safe when I saw the broken-off knob on her screen door and the deep white gouges scarring the inner door’s wood.
Someone had broken in—with Leah’s child inside.
Inside, chaos reigned though the room was empty. Furniture was out of place—the couch cushions split open, the coffee table overturned, the TV on its back as if its cabinet had been shoved. Toys and books and throw pillows were scattered among glass from a broken lamp and a tea cup and plate shattered into pieces. Every drawer, every door was open as if someone had been searching for something.
I took it all in with one sweeping glance as I struggled toward the kitchen to the left. “Leah!”
The kitchen was empty as well, the destruction in the front room repeated here. A tornado had torn through the house, but still, I saw no sign of the people who lived here.
Until a startled scream came from one of the back rooms.
I cursed, stretching my long legs as far as they would go, taking the hallway like a sprinter with the finish line in sight. I hit the back bedroom in time to see Leah kneeling beside an older woman on the floor next to a heavy dresser. The angle of the woman’s neck told me all I needed to know, but Leah couldn’t read the story—one shaking hand was reaching to find a pulse.
I snatched her back before her fingers could make contact.