If you’ve been following the series, you’ve already met Wyatt. I hope you like him as a hero! I love him and Kat together.
So without further ado, here’s Chapter 1:
Sleaze oozed from the pores of the room.
The dim blue lights obscured the worst of the sins, but there was still enough on display to make Wyatt feel like a virus crept over him, staining his skin and his soul.
Smoke curled up from the mouths of men and women, clogging the air with the scent of cigarettes and the harder drugs being passed freely amongst the party guests. Free-flowing alcohol sloshed in glasses and onto the floor as the night grew late. Women in skimpy outfits worked the room, their smiles brittle and their eyes dead. The men they pretended to fawn over either didn’t notice or didn’t care, too intent on copping a feel as the women passed with drinks or food.
Wyatt watched the proceedings from an armchair in the corner of the room, cringing inwardly at the sights. He kept McCready, his target and the only reason he was here, in his peripheral vision as he surveyed the room. It was a huge, open-plan space, fitting a hundred or so people inside before spilling them out onto the deck beyond. The crisp air outside didn’t deter the guests, as they drank and flirted and swam in the heated outdoor pool.
Inside, the room had enough columns, items of furniture, and pot plants to create an illusion of privacy if any guest wanted it. None took the house up on its implicit offer, though. Instead, men openly groped McCready’s women.
Wyatt turned back to his host. McCready surveyed the den of iniquity with intense satisfaction. He organised the underground fights Wyatt and other men participated in every Saturday night. Based on the guests here tonight, Wyatt was willing to guess that was only a small part of McCready’s business.
Wyatt wasn’t here to bust him for that, though. He had bigger fish to fry. He swallowed, moistening a throat dry from the smoke and the nausea currently roiling his stomach.
McCready glanced over and caught Wyatt’s eye. Wyatt tried not to curse. He’d done his best to stay invisible so he wouldn’t have to participate in McCready’s entertainments. But rather than let on, Wyatt forced a slight smile as McCready made his way towards him.
McCready was a man of average height and above-average width. His shoulders strained at the seams of his custom-tailored suit, tonight’s a royal blue. His shoes were shined to perfection, probably Italian leather, and his hair was an expensive undercut that probably cost more than all the haircuts Wyatt had got in his life put together.
None of those superficial trappings disguised the fact that McCready was a very dangerous man. His shoulders were broad with muscles—and not those from a gym. His eyes were hard, merciless, and Wyatt suddenly had no doubt this man had killed in the past, and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.
Though, now he had men to do that for him. Fighters he’d hand-picked and trained to be his right-hand men.
A role Wyatt intended to take for himself, God help him.
“Enjoying yourself?” McCready asked as he reached Wyatt’s elbow, raising his voice above the music and the crowd.
“Sure,” Wyatt replied, attempting to sound enthusiastic.
McCready raised a disbelieving brow. “And yet you haven’t had a drink, or a woman, since you got here. What, exactly, are you finding so entertaining?”
Wyatt set his jaw, determined not to let his surprise show at how closely McCready had been watching him.
“I’m getting a lay of the land first,” he replied. “Taking it all in. Wouldn’t mind a drink, though.” He’d rather not drink, not here, but it was the easiest concession he could make to get McCready off his back.
McCready smiled as if he’d won a point against him. He flagged down a passing woman in gold hotpants and a matching bikini top. She was obviously one of McCready’s women, the same who served drinks at the fights Wyatt participated in on Saturday nights. Wyatt had always been curious about them. Did he hire them for the occasions? Were they on retainers? Or, he thought with a sudden jolt of horror, were they more like pets McCready kept to entertain his guests?
This particular woman was one he’d seen a couple of times. Dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. She was pretty, though not as pretty as the rest of the women, if he was being honest. Perversely, that made him like her more, as if she, too, didn’t belong in this place of excess and superficiality. But her eyes had that same dull sheen as the other women, almost robotic as she looked at him without emotion.
Wyatt had the sudden urge to flee. To arrest McCready, as he would have done a year ago. To take the Stepford Wives away from this man, and protect them. To bring them back to life, and help them forget whatever McCready had forced them to do that made them shut themselves off so completely from their surroundings.
Is this what Wyatt would become? Would his mission turn him into some kind of mechanical zombie, willing to do whatever the man beside him asked? He hoped not. Though perhaps that would be the price he’d have to pay to get the answers he wanted.
“What’ll it be?” McCready prompted Wyatt, pulling him back to the present. He couldn’t flee, not now, when he was so close. Getting invited to one of McCready’s parties meant he was at least somewhat trusted by McCready. Surely it was only a matter of time before he was close enough to glean the man’s secrets.
“Whiskey,” he told the woman. “Neat.”
She gave a curt nod and spun away, quickly disappearing into the crowd while dodging wandering hands as best she could. Almost all the guests were men, and none of them seemed to be the type who had qualms about touching random women. Wyatt had no doubt this was intentional on McCready’s part. He cultivated his acquaintances precisely. For what purpose, Wyatt wasn’t sure.
Though, given the fact that Wyatt believed he recognised at least one senator, and another prominent businessman, among the attendees, it could simply be business. Though, he doubted it.
“I could give her to you, you know,” McCready said casually.
Wyatt tore his gaze away from where the woman had disappeared into the crowd and raised an eyebrow at McCready.
“Hmmm?” he asked, not sure what McCready meant, but having a horrible feeling he knew.
“If you want her, she’s yours. For tonight, of course.” McCready eyed him closely, watching for Wyatt’s reaction.
He managed not to give him one. Just. “Maybe later. I don’t want to miss any of the party.” Even if Wyatt was the kind of man who’d take McCready up on his offer, he knew it wouldn’t come without a price.
McCready laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Fair enough.”
It had apparently been the right thing to say to put McCready off without raising his suspicions, but Wyatt’s stomach roiled. McCready handed the women around like the drinks and drugs? Didn’t they get a say? Were they prostitutes, and he their pimp? Or was there another reason they were so under his thumb?
“You fought well tonight,” McCready murmured, making conversation.
Wyatt slanted a glance at McCready, trying not to expose his growing hatred for the man. He’d known he was depraved, but Wyatt was beginning to think he hadn’t suspected the half of it.
“Thank you,” he replied. His match had been against Weston, one of McCready’s favoured few. The bigger man currently nursed a beer, sulking against the wall as he glared at the room. Cuts Wyatt had inflicted earlier decorated his face. Wyatt couldn’t help but get a thrill of satisfaction at the sight. Weston was a dick—violent, stupid, and thuggish.
The woman came back with a drink on a tray, proffering it to Wyatt. He clasped the glass and raised it to his lips. The liquid was smooth down his throat. Top shelf stuff. She hadn’t skimped on him—or maybe McCready only had the good stuff.
McCready grabbed her arm before she could turn away. “Kat, this is Wyatt. I want you to take very good care of him tonight. Whatever he asks, okay?”
Kat’s gaze turned to him, and for a moment he saw a flash of something in those dull depths. Hatred? Disgust? Whatever it had been, it was gone too quickly for him to make it out. But no matter what she thought of him, he was cheered to know the spirit hadn’t been completely sucked out of her yet.
“Of course,” she murmured, ducking her head.
“Perfect,” McCready said, eyeing them both. “I have to go talk to some of my guests. Have fun tonight.” The last was said with a pointed look at Wyatt, who plastered on a smile.
When McCready had disappeared, he turned back to Kat. She looked at him expectantly, waiting. Wyatt didn’t know what to say.
“I’m fine,” he told her.
She raised her eyebrows, some life entering her gaze again. “I didn’t ask.”
Wyatt cracked a smile, his first genuine one for the evening. “I mean, I don’t need anything. But thank you.”
Kat shrugged, giving him an amused once-over. Her gaze was penetrating, as if she could see far more than he wanted to reveal, and she didn’t exactly like what she saw. It unnerved him, wondering what she saw in him.
Her eyes drifted up to his, where they locked. A sizzle of attraction passed through his veins. She was far more beautiful now that she didn’t look so robotic. The life in her eyes made her look like a real person, not a doll, and Wyatt found he much preferred that in a woman.
“Well, I may as well stick by your side in case you need anything.”
“And avoid the groping hands out there?” he asked, only semi-joking, with a tilt of his head to indicate the room at large.
She blinked, her eyes growing wary. “Why are you here?” she asked suddenly.
Wyatt straightened, panic edging in at his corners. He took a sip of whiskey to stall. “What do you mean?”
“You had to be forced to get a drink, you haven’t groped a single woman, and you were sulking in the corner looking miserable. If you don’t want to be here, leave.” She was glaring at him, as if he’d personally offended her. By doing what, he couldn’t be sure. And, now that he thought about it, why had she been watching him so closely?
“You’re not having fun, either. So why don’t you leave?”
Her eyes shuttered. “I can’t,” she murmured, so low he could barely hear.
He stepped closer to her, crowding into her personal space. “Neither,” he hissed, “can I.”
Her gaze snapped up, landing on his in shock. Wyatt shrugged, and then turned and walked into the crowd. He felt unsteady. He’d nearly revealed everything to that woman—Kat—and for what? Because he identified with her? Pitied her? He couldn’t be sure.
One thing he knew, he had to stay away from her. Those dark, piercing eyes might be his undoing.
He kept walking until he found himself in an empty hallway. There, he stopped to take a breath and get ahold of himself. His mission was far more important than anything else. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to get the dirt on McCready, regardless of what a woman he didn’t know thought of him.
That reminder drilled into his brain, Wyatt started opening doors, exploring the hallway he’d found himself in. It was only a small part of the palatial building McCready lived in. When he’d driven up to the house he guessed there were about fifteen bedrooms on the floors above him. Surrounding the mansion was at least two pools, a tennis court, and a garage big enough for ten cars.
It would take him weeks to search the whole place. His plan to get in and out as quickly as possible took a sharp U-turn. Not that he expected this to be easy, but now he knew for certain he needed an excuse to stay here as long as possible.
It was a long shot, that McCready kept records. There wouldn’t be any point, not really. But since the other option was to have McCready or one of his goons to confess what Wyatt wanted to know straight to his face, he figured he had a better shot of finding a smoking gun in McCready’s house.
One of the doors opened onto something that looked like an office. A huge desk dominated the opposite side of the room, the surface strangely empty. Not even a pen. Bookcases lined the walls, filled with impressive-looking books Wyatt doubted had ever been cracked open.
Wyatt slipped inside and beelined for the desk. He opened the drawers, but they were empty, so he turned to the filing cabinet. A few bills, but nothing pertaining to McCready’s illegal businesses. He was about to start searching the book when a shift in the air told him the door had opened at his back.
Wyatt spun around. Relief flooded him when he saw it was Kat, not McCready or one of his men. But at the furious look on her face he reassessed his position, eyeing her warily.
“What are you doing?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Looking for the bathroom?” he tried.
Kat rolled her eyes. “Try again.”
Wyatt took a deep breath and strode towards her. “It’s none of your damn business,” he said, voice harder than he’d meant it to be. But he didn’t take it back, even as she straightened, eyes darting nervously.
“I’ll tell McCready,” she hissed.
“No, you won’t,” he replied, more nonchalantly than he felt.
“And why’s that?”
“Because you were meant to be watching me.”
Surprise flashed in her eyes, and Wyatt knew he was right.
“You weren’t just meant to serve my whims, you were supposed to keep an eye on the new guy. So, when McCready finds out I slipped away from you, I won’t be the only one punished.”
“As if McCready would punish me for exposing you,” she scoffed. “That would mean I was doing my job.”
“So why aren’t you calling for him right now?”
She hesitated. “I have my reasons.”
“You hate it here. You hate him.”
She glanced up at something on the ceiling above his shoulder. Wyatt turned, but it only looked like a motion sensor. He turned back to ask her about it, but she shook her head.
“I’m here, that’s what matters.” She crossed her arms defensively over her chest.
Wyatt stepped forward. “It doesn’t have to be. Help me.”
She stepped back, shaking her head. “I can’t. I won’t.”
“If you don’t, I’ll tell McCready you—” he broke off, unable to think of a suitable threat.
Kat glared at him, then sighed, defeated. She stepped forward, closing the gap between them, and pointed a finger into his chest. “I don’t give a shit how much trouble you get yourself into, but don’t drag me down with you. I’ve only got a few months left in this hellhole, and I’ll be damned if you get me in trouble and add more time to my sentence. So keep your mouth shut, and I won’t tell, got it?”
Sentence? What the fuck kind of nightmare was McCready running here? Wyatt swallowed thickly. He couldn’t allow himself to think about it, think about others. He needed to keep his eye on the prize.
“Got it,” Wyatt said, then pushed past her into the hall.
She grabbed his arm, stopping him before he could go three steps.
He turned back to her, their gazes meeting as that same electricity raced through his veins. She really was beautiful, more so than he’d first thought, but it was the personality in her eyes that really drew him. He knew for a fact she didn’t belong here, in this world, any more than he did. They were both pretending for their own reasons, and that gave him a sense of kinship with her.
“Whatever you’re doing,” she whispered, leaning closer. “Be careful. McCready is not forgiving of those that betray him. I’ve seen it.”
Wyatt searched her eyes, wondering why she was bothering to warn him. His heart beat faster, oddly grateful this stranger was concerned for his welfare.
He nodded to show he understood, and she let go of his arm and slid past him. She disappeared around the corner, and Wyatt blew out a breath the second he could no longer see her. It was like the air was charged in her presence, seizing his lungs.
He shook himself, preparing to re-enter the party.
And make friends with McCready, the man he was sure murdered his brother.