Title of Story: From The Ashes

Rating: M

Pairing: Bella/Edward

Genre: Drama

Word Count: 10,046 (wordcounttool dot com)

Story Summary: He controls everything he sees. Until he sees her.

Standard Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

"Two twenty-five."

I laugh loudly, shaking my head. "You're out of your mind."

"Retail is five hundred. Given that the plates need changing, two twenty-five is fair."

The end of my cigarette glows dark orange as I take a long, deep drag, letting the pause in our conversation stretch. Stealing cars started out as a hobby—passing time on a Saturday night with my boys. Jasper grew up across the hall from me. His parents were MIA most of the time, and we started hanging out, boosting cars for fun just to fuck with people. That guy is a fucking genius with alarms. Eventually we got smart and started selling the parts for money. And when we had a whole crew made up of different skill sets, we got really smart and started playing in the big leagues, stealing cars most people only dream of owning and selling them to the highest bidder—enter Newton's whiny ass.

I break the silence, exhaling smoke and the last of my patience. "The plates and the alarm removal won't cost you more than five thousand. Any monkey with half a brain and a set of pliers could do it."

"That doesn't change my offer, Masen. Two twenty-five."

I stamp my cigarette into the glass ashtray. If his Daddy wasn't the fucking mayor, I'd never do business with a worm like Newton. But shit like this—selling stolen cars to the mayor's only son—that kind of leverage is damn near priceless. "You're wasting my fucking time," I say lowly. "Either you give me three hundred, or the deal is off. You won't find anyone better than my crew for this job, and they don't come cheap."

My hand fists around the phone. "Don't make the mistake of fucking with me."

"Are you threatening me? Is this how you treat your buyers?"

His whining grates, and I fight against the urge to teach this spoiled little rich boy a lesson. Or just squash this deal entirely. "To be a buyer, Michael, you have to actually buy something. Right now, you're just a prick who's wasting my time. Three hundred thousand and it'll be delivered to your door. I won't even ask Emmett to teach you a lesson in respect. That is how I treat my buyers." I slump back in my seat. "Are you going to say yes, or is this conversation over?"

"Goddammit, Masen."

"Five seconds."

He's silent. Emmett knocks on my door, and I wave him in.

"Goodbye, Mic—"

"Fuck! Three hundred, okay? But if this goes bad, I swear to God your name is the first I'm spilling."

I smile, dark and wide. "Emmett would put a bullet in your mouth before he let my name come out of it," I say softly. "Pleasure doing business with you." I slam the phone down.

"Newton?" Emmett asks.

"Who else do you know stupid enough to try to intimidate me?"

He raises his shoulders in a gesture of agreement. "So is the deal off?"

"For three hundred thousand of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, I can take Newton's posturing."

Emmett looks at me, eyes narrowed.

I light another cigarette.

He shifts from foot to foot.

I lean back in my chair.

"Bullshit," he exclaims, clearly tired of trying to hold it in. "Uh, Boss." He scratches his neck.

I smirk at his save. "Newton will get what he's due."

"You wanna tell me how?"

"You gonna keep your fucking mouth shut to the others?"

He rears his head back as if he's insulted. "Masen. I've known you ten years, built this shit from the roots up next to you. You're as close as I'll get to a brother. I'd die for you, fucker." He rubs a hand over the left side of his ribcage, where a bullet meant for me sits inside him.

"Newton's going to pay me for the car, and we're going to deliver it." I inhale nicotine and tar until my lungs ache, then blow it back out. "And then we're going to steal it back from him."

Emmett stares at me blankly for a second before erupting into laughter. "From right under his nose?"

"Yep. His security isn't worth shit."

"And he can't go to the police because he'd have to confess his part."

"Mayor's office wouldn't like that." I close my eyes, breathing deep, satisfaction coursing through my veins. "Caught up in his own trap."

"He'll come for revenge."

"He won't. He's not that stupid. He's a spineless little shit, playing a game too big for him. And if he does? Let him come. I'll roll out the red carpet."

"Your head's a scary place."

I smile. "You don't know the half of it."

We get security for the night sorted before Emmett leaves, and I take some time to enjoy the silence before the club opens. This place is my baby. The crowning jewel on my empire. Easy money, lots of cash flow, and a captive audience to deal to. We give people somewhere to get wasted and primed to fuck. I'm surrounded by women desperate for my dick, men dying to get my respect.

This shit didn't come easy, though. I grew up in the deep, dark underbelly of this city, crawling my way through life on the side of town people don't drive through at night. Police were either in on the shit that went down or figured they couldn't fight against it, and the social workers couldn't house kids who could name drugs better than they could the alphabet. I never knew my father, and it was a rare day I saw my mother sober. We lived in a two-room apartment with peeling wallpaper and bloodstained carpet, but she filled the place with pipe dreams.

She talked like there were possibilities for people like us, even though she'd never known anything other than the shithole we lived in. Not many mothers would be proud of having a dealer for a son, but mine knew that was only the beginning for me. My life didn't fit with my ambitions, so I bent or broke the rules until it did.

I started small, selling on a street corner, and I fought my way up. I put blood and sweat into my territory, my body catalogued with the scars to prove it. Knives and guns were nothing compared to the pure fucking fire burning within me, the resentment that had spent years growing inside. I built my crew up from the same streets we were all trying to escape, knowing their loyalty would be stronger than any money could buy. There were distractions, of course. A girl. She dug deep under my skin, so embedded that I let her splinter my focus. All my work, all my time, it was all for her. Plans that had been set for years suddenly had a new goal, a different outcome. But she couldn't handle being on my arm and all that came with it. So when she left, I had nothing to lose, nothing to hold me back. I took her rejection and let it close off the last few pieces of good inside me. I worked my fingers to the bone until the neighborhood was mine. And then I worked even harder until the surrounding ones belonged to me, too.

Everything was at my fingertips. Drugs, cars, women. But still, I wanted more.

I bought the club as a legitimate outlet for money to move through, as well as giving me a base to distribute from. The only drugs that go down in this club and within three miles of here are controlled by me—my product, my boys, my profits.

Here, I run everything.

Here, my rules are law.

Here, I'm God, and I love every fucking second.

Tonight's no different. It's getting late and the crowd's getting thicker, tossing green at my bartenders and closing their eyes on the dance floor, in pursuit of nothingness. I watch. The grinding bodies and pulsing lights on the other side of the glass are as close as I get to letting go anymore, to that kind of stupid freedom.

There are people everywhere, but my eyes only catch on one. She moves like a memory, in glimpses and starts. The whisper of something long-suppressed, of a different life that stirs deep in my chest. I push it back down where it belongs, where I've hidden it for so long.

The glass full of amber liquid in my hand is forgotten as I watch her writhe and grind, the low bassline and heavy drumbeat making the mass of sweat-slick bodies look like a pit of debauchery. She's at the center of it all by herself, her body pure temptation as she rotates her hips and runs her hands down her stomach. My hands jerk reflexively, and I can almost feel the contours of her body under my palms.

Her white dress glows in the flashing blue lights. They give me a second-long glimpse of her each time they pulse, a burst of beauty, hotter than hell and shining brighter than the sun.

I watch her as one song merges into the next, and still she dances, her hands coming up to run through her dark hair. She grips the curls and pulls them up, exposing her flushed skin to the air. Her hands drop to sweep over her collarbone, down to her breasts, and I stare as she cups them before smoothing down past her ribcage.

Jesus, fuck.

I take a sip of whiskey, but looking at her burns more than the alcohol sliding down my throat. There are plenty of gorgeous girls dressed in skimpier outfits, but it's her my eyes keep going back to. I shift from one leg to the other, the slight friction pushing my zipper harder against the head of my erection. She tilts her head back toward the ceiling, and I get a look at her face. The sight makes my heart stop cold.

I can't believe this stunner, this fucking heart-breaker, would be here. I can't tear my eyes away. I want to go back, to forget I've seen her face, to the moments before now when everything was simple, clear. When I was in control of each moving part, the puzzle pieces that surround me, able to move them and place them however I wish. And now, this fucking girl. She just shows up, and my world tilts, the puzzle pieces realigning, just like that. This girl, she's going to change everything. I can fucking feel it bone-deep.

I stand and stare. My body and my heart beg me to move, to push through the crowd and pull her with me, this circling star that I just want to suck into my gravitational pull. I want to consume, to absorb.


But my brain, my responsibilities, they freeze me in place. They remind me that there's no room for mistakes, no space left for messy attachments. And that's just how it would be. Messy.

So, I wait. And I watch.

Pink cheeks and pinker lips, both plump like her tits, her shape is curvy and full. My free hand twitches at the thought of touching those curves. I imagine running my hands all over her dress, how soft it'd feel between palms that only know harshness. But my hands are covered in blood, covered in the poison my life is seeped in, and I know that white would end up stained with it.

She seems oblivious to those around her, a slight smile dimpling her face as Kings of Leon blares over the speakers. She doesn't falter at the change in rhythm, just adjusts her movements to match the faster pace. I watch her jump up and down, her arms lifting over her head, making her dress ride up thighs I want to squeeze. I shake my head when I realize I've been watching this broad for longer than I've taken to fuck others. I can't move away from the window, though. Not while she's still dancing.

She's fucking gorgeous.

My hand tightens around my now-empty tumbler as some dickhead comes up behind her, molding his body to hers. She steps forward slightly, moving out of his reach, and he wraps his hand around her arm to hold her back. Memories of watching my mother weak and at the mercy of a man bubble up inside me. But I'm no longer a child, hiding behind the locked door of a bathroom. I'm slamming open the door to my office before I've even decided to move, scaring the shit out of Emmett as I pound down the stairs to the dance floor. I roll up the sleeves of my shirt, not wanting this motherfucker's blood staining the cuffs. I can barely see through the haze blurring my vision, but I'm aware of people moving away as I step onto the club floor. I keep my eyes on the still-struggling girl ten feet away, cursing when I see the meaty hand pressing tight around her bicep.

I push past couples dancing, my rage burning as I see genuine fear on the girl's face. I hear my boys behind me, but I can take care of this one alone. The woman's eyes shoot up to mine as I get within touching distance, big and brown, and I feel a jolt down my spine. Her mouth falls open slightly as I step closer to the prick still holding on to her.

"I will break every motherfucking bone in your hand if you don't remove it from her arm right this fucking second."

The dickhead spins around, his face screwed up in anger. "Who the hell are you?"

She edges closer to me, pulling her arm, but still he holds on to it. He's touching something that doesn't belong to him. Mine, my thoughts echo, and I don't have time to consider repercussions, whys, or hows as the anger crawls up my throat, coating my tongue in the sourest slickness and making me want to spit it at him. I lean in close, so close I can almost see the sweat beading on his forehead. "Your worst fucking nightmare," I say, and then I rear my arm back and punch him square in the jaw. His head snaps back, and he finally releases the girl. I pull her behind me just as chaos erupts around us. Jasper and Emmett push their way forward, giving me meaningful glances. It's not like me to dirty my hands with low-lifes like this motherfucker anymore, but it had to be done. And they know exactly why. They grab on to the prick, no doubt dragging him outside to finish what I've started. People scatter, leaving a circle of empty floor around me. I turn to the woman behind me, my eyes flicking down to the bottom lip she's sucked into her mouth.

"He hurt you?"

Her gaze locks with mine as she dips her chin, nodding cautiously. I run my thumb over already-bruising marks on her arm, forcing myself to stay in place and keep my touch gentle despite the anger running hot through my blood.

"Come with me, beautiful," I tell her, gesturing with my arm for her to walk ahead of me, but she just stands and stares. "Please."

She walks toward me, to the edge of the dance floor, but she stops before she's within touching distance.

"You told him you'd hurt him if he didn't let me go," she says, still sucking that lip into her mouth. Hearing her husky voice lights me on fire, but I don't let it show.

"And I would have. Still want to."

"For me?"

I look at the dark blots of pain blooming across her skin. "No respect for men who use their strength to make women feel small."

We stand in the quiet corner of the dance floor, her face lit up by stripes of red and blue, orange and yellow that make her hair look like fire. Jacob calls out "boss," and I half-turn. "What?"

"You want anything broken, or just bruised?"

"How scared did he make you?" I ask the still-shaking woman before me.

She looks to Jake and then back at me, hesitating, one hand coming up to rub the marks on her arm. My fury pulses harder than the blood behind her bruises when I see the shape of a fingerprint. "A little," she says, but the glassy sheen of her eyes exposes the lie.

"Then he should feel that same fear, shouldn't he?" I ask her, giving Jake his answer. He nods and leaves, and I notice her slump slightly. I think she's scared at first, but when she looks up, gratitude is written in every line of her face.

I unclench my fist and hold my hand out toward her. "Come with me."

She slides her hand into mine, soft and small, all woman. Leading her through the crowd, I nod at the security who watch us closely. We get to the stairs leading to my office, and I put my hand on the small of her back to help her up. My cock twitches as I watch her ass sway side-to-side with each step.

She turns back to look at me when we're halfway up, no doubt catching me checking her out. She gives a sly smile, those cheeks still so pink, and I smirk in return.

I can't wait to be inside her.

The music is muted to almost-silence as I shut the door to my office. My girl turns in a neat circle, her dark eyes running over every square inch of the room. She fixes her stare on the window and steps closer, thin heels making muted thuds on the carpet.

"You can see everything from here?"

"Not everything I want to see," I reply, my eyes fixed on the outline of her tits through her dress.

"You see a lot of girls, I bet. Do you watch them?"

Stepping forward, I pull her hair away from her neck and replace it with my lips, open enough to flick my tongue across her pulse point. "I watched you."

"Oh," she says with a shiver, twisting her hands together.

"Couldn't take my fucking eyes off you."

"Oh," she repeats, except better, because this time her voice doesn't shake, and she arches her back so her ass presses against my groin.

"You looked better than any other woman out there."

"How did I look?" she breathes.

"Like you should be on my arm. Like you should be my girl." I run my tongue across the skin of her shoulder. "I'm gonna make you mine, beautiful. You want that?"

Her chest rises and falls with heavy breaths as I skim my hands down her arms, but she stays silent.

My fingertips brush over hers as I whisper, "Tell me what you want."

She sucks in air and releases it slowly. "One night. No names. No ties. Just you and me," she says quietly. "I just need to feel again. What if that's what I want?"

"I'll give you the world if you want it." She writhes against me. Wanting. Anticipating. "But you play with fire, you'll get burned."

She tilts her head back to rest against my chest. "Maybe I need the flames. Maybe they're what make me feel alive."

I stroke her pulse point with my thumb, and I can't believe all the things I would do for her, give to her. "No names… What should I call you then, hm? Sweet, to match those tits? Sexy, to match that body?"

"Anything," she says, breathless. Desperate. "You can call me anything you want."

She lifts an arm to curl around my neck, her tits jutting forward, hard nipples pressing against white fabric. "Angel," I tell her. "I'm going to call you angel. And then I'll make you feel like you're in fucking heaven."

"Oh, God," she whispers.

"Is that what you want? To see God?"

The arm around my neck tightens as she nods.

"I'll need to touch you then, angel. You okay with that?"

"You already are," she replies shakily.

Careful not to touch her breasts, I run the tip of my index finger from the space between them down to just above where we both want me inside. "I want to touch more of you. Every single hidden place." I watch over her shoulder as my finger retraces its path back up, and her breath hitches as I graze the side of one breast. "Will you let me?"

"Please," she breathes out.

"Please, what?" I ask, halting my hand.

"Please touch me. Everywhere."

I don't have to be told twice. My hands immediately cover both of her perfect tits and squeeze just as she reaches back and grips my thighs to steady herself, her back arching and breath leaving her in a heavy exhale.

Her moan makes me smirk. It's strangled, like she's trying to hold back but can't. As my thumbs rub over her nipples, she tightens her grip on me, her nails pressing into my skin through my slacks.

"Yesss," I hiss, loving her inability to control herself. "Let go for me. I want to see the girl who caught my attention from all the way up here, the one who made my dick hard just by the way she moved."

Her hand comes up to cover one of mine, pulling it away from her breast. I think I've offended her, but then she snakes it down her body, pressing it to cover her hot pussy.

Fuck, yes.

"That's my girl. Spread those legs a little."

She complies, and I run my fingers over flesh that burns even through layers of fabric. Her gasp fuels my need to make her come, to give her the pleasure she craves. I roll her nipple between my fingers as my other hand rubs between her legs. The dark tattoos covering my forearm are stark against the white of her dress, sinner colliding with saint. I know I'm all wrong for her, that I'm corrupting innocence, but I'm too far gone. It's been so long since I held something as beautiful as this girl, and I can't give it up again. She whimpers and pulls at my pants so hard I know the wrinkles won't ever come out.

After a minute of my touching, she spins to face me. She kisses me, rubs her tongue against mine desperately. I let her have her moment before I take over, cupping her jaw and tilting her head up to lick at her lips softly. "Angel's got fire, hm?"

She melts into me as I take her mouth. I bite her lips, suck on her tongue, kiss her so fucking hard and deep she's branded by it. By me. Bending to catch the hem of her floaty little dress, I drag it upwards as she lifts her arms, giving me permission.

My groan is uncontrollable as glowing pale skin is revealed to me. The dim light of my office can't dull the sexiness of her body. She isn't model perfect. She's short and a little on the soft side, but I can't stop thinking about how she'll have to be on tiptoe for me to fuck her against the wall, or how her body will cushion mine when I drive in to her.

"You're heaven-sent." My words surprise me, the honesty in them plain as they reverberate around the room. I don't realize how true they are until I've heard them slip from my mouth, unbidden and unthought through. The sincerity settles in my chest and unsettles me.

Until she looks at me with a small, shy smile playing on her lips.

"These tits… They were made to fit in my hands." I step closer, flattening my hand on her ribcage and stroking the underside of her breast with my thumb. I've touched a lot of broads, had my hands on too many of them to count, but only one has ever fit me like this. "This mouth," I say, pecking her lightly, "was made for me to kiss. These lips were made to suck my cock."

She tries to kiss me deeper, tugging on my tie, but I move back. I run a finger down to her chest, loving how soft her skin feels. I make the pink flush of her nipple even more prominent by pinching roughly. "I can't stop thinking about how these will taste on my tongue. Sweet? Tart? Somewhere in between?" Her parted lips release puffs of air against my face as I lean even closer. "But what I'm really hoping to taste," I say softly, skimming her skin as I drop my finger to play with the waistband of her white lace underwear, "is this."

She moves her hips toward me as my finger taps against her clit. "Because if you were made for me, if this body was crafted just for me, then my mouth was made for your pussy. It was made to lick you dry and suck you until you're wet again. I'm going to fuck you with my tongue, angel, and then I'm going to fuck you with my cock. And I promise, you're going to beg me to do it all again."

I'm palming her tit, my mouth against hers, when the knock at the door comes.

"Boss, we got a problem," Emmett calls through, his voice serious enough to make me stop.

"Fuck." I press my forehead to my girl's, her hot breaths ghosting across my lips. The temptation to keep kissing her, to unzip my pants and take her right here is so strong, I can barely stop myself. But I know Emmett wouldn't interrupt unless he had to, especially not when I have this woman in my office. "I have to go, sweetness. You want to stay here?"

She blinks, dark chocolate eyes hazy. "What?"

"I've got something to take care of. Do you want to wait here, or do you want one of my boys to take you to my place?" I pick up her dress and hand it to her, instantly missing the sight of her skin as she puts it back on.

"Your place?"

I smooth her messy hair back from her face. "I can't have you sleeping alone tonight," I say, tugging slightly on the ends of her curls. "I want you in my bed, that blush and those tits and that pussy, so I can worship you, inch by inch. So what's it going to be? Here or my place?"

"I don't know…"

"You told me you wanted one night, baby. One night of fire, one night of being alive." I kiss the corner of her lips. "I'll give you that."


"You're safe with me, angel. I swear to you."

She licks her kiss-swollen lips. "Your place."

I grasp her chin between my forefinger and thumb so I can take her mouth again. "Good girl."

When I step away, her body leans forward to follow, and she has to grip my desk to keep steady. My smirk can't be stopped, even when I open my office door to see Emmett looking grave.

"One of the boys caught a dealer."

I fist my hands. This is my territory, and everyone within twenty miles knows it. "X?"

Emmett grimaces. "Dust."

"Motherfucker," I snarl, teeth gritted. "How much did he move?"

"He says not a lot, but he only had a couple of wraps left. We're guessing thirty. Could be more."

I slam my hand into the doorframe, sending jolts that only rile me further through my whole body. Breathing deep, I try to find calm, but I know that won't come until the problem has been dealt with.

"You have him in the back room?"

Emmett nods.

Walking back to my desk, I ignore the sight of the wide-eyed woman in front of it as I open the top drawer. My fingers flex around the cool metal of a gun. Shoving it down the back of my pants, I then grasp my girl's elbow to walk her forward. "You need to take her to my place," I tell Emmett. "No fucking around. I want her there safe and waiting for me."

"Yes, boss," he replies, his eyes flickering to her before he turns his back to give us some privacy.

I turn around. The blushing girl is gone, her face devoid of any color for the first time tonight. "Was that a gun?"

I stare straight into her eyes, brazen and unashamed. "Yes." She looks ready to bolt, so I stroke the inside of her elbow with my thumb, maintaining a firm grasp on her arm.

Her eyes drop to the floor. "Dust?"

I bite the inside of my cheek so hard, metallic-rust seeps on to my tongue. "Coke."

She swallows. "Right."

I close my eyes, inhale, step closer. "I won't lie to you, and I won't hide who I am," I whisper as I run my nose along hers, pressing our foreheads together. "But I'll give you what you want. Emmett will take you to my apartment. I'll be there as soon as I can."

I can see Emmett shifting slightly from his position by the door. I don't have women at my place, ever. They're too fucking curious. I don't want to wake up after fucking a broad the night before only to find her snooping around my space. But this girl, I can't not take her home. She's special.

She nods, but she still won't look at me. I lead her out of my office and down the stairs, Emmett following behind. We meet up with Jasper and Jake at the bottom, and I press a kiss to my girl's lips. "Wait for me, angel."

As I watch Emmett lead her outside, her shoe straps looped around her hand, I finally let my temper boil over. I push through the crowd, flanked by black-suited men on both sides, and walk through the long corridor leading to the back room. As I shoulder my way through the door, a sadistic smile spreads across my face at seeing the dealer slumped on the floor, one eye swollen shut and his face smeared with blood. Usually the boys would deal with this alone, and I'd supervise, sending the message that I'm not someone to be fucked with. But tonight's confrontation on the dance floor has me feeling the need to cause this prick some damage.

"You fucked me over," I say softly, removing the gun from my waistband. "And I don't take kindly to people who fuck me over." Stepping closer, I crouch in front of him and skim the barrel of the gun down his cut cheek and over the cloth of the gag inside his mouth. "You sold coke to my customers, in my own fucking club." I keep my voice quiet, dragging the gun down his torso as he whimpers. "You caused my boys hassle. You cost me time and money, and the sweetest fucking pussy."

The cocking of the gun echoes around the room as I aim at my first mark, where his hand rests against cold tile.

"And for that, you're going to have to pay."

My finger presses the trigger.

I stretch my neck to the side as his muffled screams fill the air.

He's not the first to receive this message, but the way I deliver it will make it so he knows never to step his soon-to-be mangled foot into my territory again.

"Don't waste all your energy now," I tell him. "We're just getting started."


I'm stunned silent in the back of a solid black Town Car, heart pounding and hands shaking. The adrenaline is too much, my body thrumming, alive, and needy. When I made my plans, when I chose that club, I knew I wanted something. An encounter, a fling, a night to remember things I've lost, things I've left behind. I traded in youthful recklessness for nine-to-five normalcy a long fucking time ago. When I slipped this white dress over my head, and again when I stepped through the doors of the club, I promised myself it was just for fun. Just to reminisce. A silly bout of nostalgia.

I should have bolted when I saw that gun. But I was already in too deep then, too lost and turned on and helpless. He'd seen it all—my desire, my need, my request for one night to feel alive—he'd seen it, and promised me more. Promises I need him to keep.

Emmett, the big bear of a man driving me, checks his mirror every moment or two, and I tell myself he's not judging me. That he's not frowning or pressing his lips into lines of disapproval. I cross my legs and shift, false-confidence spilling out of every one of my pores.

The real confidence I thought I'd built up in the last several years seems to be hiding, crumbling, cowering in a dark corner of my mind. I second-guess myself for the millionth time as I stare at the city lights outside my window. "You play with fire, you'll get burned." I know he's right. But the promise of excitement, of fire and passion, something my life has been sorely lacking for far too long, is too tempting. To want something, to need it so much again after suppressing for so long… There was no way I could resist.

Going this far wasn't part of my plan for tonight, but I made my decision the moment I slipped my hand into his. Even though I should be angry, hurt that he's shuffled me out of the way and sent me to wait, I've made up my mind. I want him; I'll have him. Tonight.

When we pull up to a high-rise apartment building less than a mile away, I don't wait for Emmett to get my door. "I think I can manage from here. What's the apartment number?"

He shakes his head. "Gotta take you in myself."

We walk without words into an indecently decadent lobby, over unblemished marble that sends each click of my heeled shoes bouncing around the room. There's a doorman standing at attention, who nods at Emmett but doesn't acknowledge me at all.

When we get on the elevator, he presses eleven.

"My lucky number," I joke.

He's silent, stoic.

I look straight ahead. My reflection in the brass doors reminds me of irresponsible choices and harsh realities that I don't want to face, so I drop my gaze to the worn carpet under my feet and wait for the ding.

When we step off the elevator, I'm led to the doorway at the end of the hall. 1101. Emmett leans over to unlock the door and let us in, but first he gives me an eyebrow-cocked, last ditch, no-turning-back-now look. Last chance to escape, his eyes and the stretched-long pause say, his large hands hovering in front of the deadbolt.

I don't flinch. Even though I should.

He opens the door, and I expect him to follow me in. But instead I hear his low, soft voice say, "I hope you know what you're doing," before the door clicks shut and locks behind me.

And I'm alone. In his house. A man who carries guns around like they're his fucking wallet. Who's not with me now because of a drug dealer, and it's not because he's opposed to the guy's chosen profession. This is the home of a bad guy. A guy I shouldn't feel safe with but do. A guy I should be running from but can't.

I shudder and hesitate. Until...

Until I think of his hands, his lips, his body. Until I think about his hair, that copper-colored untamed fire. About the wings etched in ink that wrap each side of his neck like an embrace, lines that I didn't get an opportunity to trace with my tongue. About how I want to see the rest of that tattoo. About his strong arms and the way they felt around me. And suddenly I'm in the home of a man who sees a girl in trouble and does something. A man with eyes that see me and move me and cover me. It's enough to leave me breathless and convinced, standing in the middle of his kitchen.

Slick granite countertops entice me, and in spite of myself, I imagine fucking him on every surface I see.

I fantasize about him lifting me onto the sprawling island, spreading me apart for him and tasting every inch of me. I remember how his hands felt on my nipples, my clit, my neck as I trail my fingertips across the shiny surface. I take a few steps, my footsteps echoing in the too-loud silence.

His place is large, open. Not what I expected. Such an impersonal space for someone so unafraid to get personal.

Thinking of the way he left, icy-steel death tucked against his skin, makes me shudder and chastise. How could I wind up here, in his home? He's everything I've been avoiding, everything I don't want to be close to.

But the way he touches me is venom-laced, violent and cutting. He leads me to frantic and dangles me over desperation. Just thinking about it has me moving forward in search of his bed.

I don't stop to examine or pry in the next room, an oversized living area with an oversized television, everything sleek and looking unused, untouched. The only personal embellishment in the space is a framed photograph propped on the bookshelf that I purposely ignore. I let my instincts guide me, and before I have time to rationalize, to turn back, I grip the handle to the only closed door in the place and twist.

It's dim, but I can make out the outline of a large bed. It's slept-in and unmade, and as I approach the foot of the monstrosity, I inhale deep. He lives here, only here. It's saturated with him, and without hesitation I lift a knee onto the edge of the mattress, then another, crawling over soft cotton and piles of comforter. I get to the middle and collapse, my face buried in his scent. I let it cover me like weightless armor. The smell of him is invincibility, life, power, sex—it means everything.

Pushing along the outer edges of my mind is a warning, a nagging call to run, to avoid, to hide. To keep doing what I've been doing—going on boring dates with "good" guys. Keeping temptation at arm's length.

Just this once, I promise myself. Then I'm gone.


My angel is in my bed, curled up right in the center. She's got my blanket twisted and tucked under her face, like she buried her nose in it right before she fell asleep. Her long lashes graze her cheekbones, and her bare feet rest one on top of the other. I swear, it's the sweetest fucking sight.

Almost as sweet as her thighs, creamy and flawless, begging for my touch.

I tug off my tie and toss it, kick off my shoes. It'd be nice to let her sleep, but I can't stop myself from climbing into bed with her and touching. My fingers itch with the need; my palms tingle for her.

I start at her ankle, circling my thumb over the bone there, and then I slide the tip of my middle finger up, barely touching, teasing over the softest skin to her knee. Angel has a tiny scar, a crescent-shaped mark on the outside of her kneecap, and I feel the raised texture as I trace farther, to the skin that is too tempting to resist. I press harder and climb higher, every inch scorching me more than the last.

It's been so long since I've felt this way. I pause to place the emotion, to identify it. The smile I can't stop gives it away. I'm... happy.

This girl, this girl.

When my thumbs graze the bottom of her dress, I lean forward, pushing harder with my hands into warm, soft woman. "Angel, baby," I whisper, moving and massaging the backs of her thighs with both hands, aching to rip the fabric from her body. "Beautiful girl." I move her hair off her neck and kiss exposed skin. "Wake up."

She stirs, shifting, and pushes her ass into me with a soft groan.

"That's it, gorgeous girl."

I lean away and press my palms firmly into her lower back, kneading the muscles on either side of her spine with my thumbs. She moans and my dick jumps. I keep going, traveling the path of her body, small circles and perfect pressure that make her sag into my mattress. I half-smile.

"Does that feel good, sweetness?" My fingers find the tension she's carrying at the base of her neck. "Let me take care of you."

She hums as I continue massaging her over the fabric of her dress, aching all over to push myself into her in every way.

When I've had all I can stand, I press my erection into her thigh and whisper firm, unflinching, and desperate into her ear, "Roll over, angel. I have a promise to keep."

She stretches lazily, arching as I help her turn over, her ass brushing against my already-leaking cock.

My lips close over her nipple through the fabric of her dress, and I pull at it with my teeth, making her hiss and throw her head back as she runs her hands over my shoulders.

I lick my lips, and my voice cracks when I say, "I need you." It's too forthcoming, but it's true. I've fucked dozens of women, pulled them up to my office the same as her. I've fucked them on my desk, on my office couch, up against the wall. But I've never brought one of them here, to my home, to my bed.

She looks at me like she knows as her palm skims down my cheek. Deep brown eyes say she knows she's special. Unique.

She's right, but I can't think about all the reasons why right now. I don't want to go too far down that winding path. I might never find my way back.

I've only ever loved one girl, and all that left me with was a broken fucking heart.

I press my face to her neck, inhaling her sweet scent and flicking my tongue against her skin. Moving to hover over her, my hands smooth up her legs, dipping just under her skirt. My fingers crawl to her inner thighs, pressing and massaging her softest skin. Her breath hitches when I brush the outer edges of her underwear. The white lace is soaked through. "Dreaming about me, angel?"

Instead of answering, she hooks her hand around my neck and pulls me down on top of her. She devours my mouth, licks and sucks my tongue as I grind my dick into her like an amateur.

"I want you to fuck me," she whispers low and hot against my mouth. Taken aback by her unexpected demand, I focus on her eyes, looking for the truth in them.

"You sure about that, beautiful? Because what I want is to take my time with you, worship this sinful body for as long as you'll let me." Circling my hips brings a low moan out of her mouth, but she recovers quickly, her face turning serious.

"Look, you don't have to pretend."

My brows pull together. "Pretend what?"

"That this is anything more than what it is," she says with a small shake of her head.

"And what exactly is it?" I skim my knuckles down her cheek, and her eyes flutter closed.

When they open again, there's a fire in them I've not seen from her yet, burning hot in those dark irises. "One night to leave behind who I am. One night to be consumed. That's all. Nothing more."

"Nothing more?"

Her head shakes. "I'm not naive enough to think you'll be pining away for me after I leave."

"And what if you're wrong? What if I want more from you?"

Her chocolate eyes plead with me not to demand more from her. They tell me I don't know her. Not really.

Swallowing down the million questions that push against my throat, I kiss her softly. "If that's what you need from me, angel, then that's what I'll give you."

She nods and pulls at the back of my neck until our mouths meet again, opening to each other and tasting, tasting.

My angel's hair gathers and swishes to the side as I pull her dress off, fanning out over my pillow beautifully. I can't say it to her enough. "You're gorgeous. Did you know that?"

The low lamp-light in the room shows her cheeks darken, but she doesn't shy away. "Thank you."

"I know you said no names, angel." My girl starts to interrupt me, but I steal her words with a kiss. Pressing my cheek against hers, I whisper the rest hotly into her ear as our bodies undulate together. "But I'm gonna need to hear you scream mine when I make you come so hard, you forget your own." A gusty exhale leaves her, and I pull back, locking eyes with her. "Call me Masen, baby girl." My hips circle once against her, and what sounds like a huff is swallowed up by her moan. "Say it." Putting more force behind my thrust this time, I squeeze one of her tits and suck its perfect pink nipple into my mouth as she pushes her hips up into mine.

"Masen," she moans.

"That's it."

Her hands dive into my hair, and she writhes under me. My cock is all but screaming at me to get inside her. I don't want it to be over too fast, but then, I can always have her again in the morning.

"You ready for my cock, angel?"

"God, yes." Her hands tighten in my hair, and my moan is muffled against the skin between her breasts as I taste her salty-sweetness.

Standing from the bed, I keep my eyes fixed on my girl. Her chest heaves as she intently watches me unbutton my shirt.

My gaze skims down her shapely legs as they swing over the side of the bed. She steps right up to me, ripping my belt open as her hot tongue traces over the shapes etched in ink across my chest. She falters when she sees the letter written in script over my heart. "From another lifetime." Our eyes meet and hold before her gaze drops. I kiss her mouth, then wrap my hands around her slim wrists. "No more, angel. I need to have you."

She looks up at me before staring at where my fingers are pressing into her skin. I loosen my grip slightly.

"You can hold me tight," she says quietly, moving closer to me. "I like it. Especially when…" She bites her lip.

"When I fuck you?"

She nods.

"I'm gonna fuck you so good," I tell her, trailing my hand across her stomach and down. I keep my touch light, licking my lips when I feel the wetness on the insides of her thighs. "You want me this much?"


Pushing her back down onto the bed, I kiss her once before standing up. My angel slides her underwear down her legs while I tear the rest of my clothes off, not caring where they land.

"I need a condom from that drawer," I tell her, nodding to my nightstand. She rolls over, displaying the best ass I've ever seen, and I can't fight my groan. This girl has me all twisted up, and I can barely fucking think straight.

She hands me the condom as I climb on top of her, and I roll it down my cock, shuddering as my hand grazes the sensitive head.

"You ready to see heaven, angel?"

She moans loud when I push inside her, the sound echoing around inside my skull and sending tingles down my back. She's so fucking wet, so tight, so needy as she wraps her legs around my hips.

I start slowly, swivelling my hips with shallow thrusts, but before long, she's pleading with me to move faster. And this girl, there's something about her I just can't resist. So I give her what she wants, what she's begging for, snapping my hips forward over and over. When she claws my back, dragging her nails across the phoenix tattooed into my skin, I fuck her even harder. I kiss her everywhere I can, touch her everywhere else. Grinding down onto her clit as I move, I lick at her pulse point so I can taste her heartbeat on my tongue.

She does the same, tasting the ink on each side of my neck as I drive into her. "Masen, Masen, Masen," she whimpers in time with my thrusts.

"Angel girl," I say, grunting as her pussy squeezes my cock. "Fucking beautiful." I suck on her neck. "Sweet girl tastes like sin."

"Fuck me," she begs, and I do.

Our bodies slide together, slick with sweat as I work hard to make her come. She's rolling her hips into mine, eager to ride my cock even though I'm on top, and I reward her by pressing my thumb down on her clit. She gasps and shakes, and I stroke her softly while my body ruts hard against hers.

When she comes, it's with my name all over those cock-sucking lips. Most girls fake it, but my angel's real. Her face scrunches up, her mouth opens wide, and I can't get enough.

"That's it. Good girl," I pant. "Good girl."

I start to come just as she's coming down, and I rub her clit frantically, desperate to make her come again with me. She's silent this time as her pussy clamps down on me even harder than before, my grunts the only noise filling the room as we ride out the sensations running through us. I hold my girl still while she jerks like a livewire, kissing her face as I try to regain my breath.

Keeping my weight on my bent arms, I press my lips to her forehead, her cheeks, and then her mouth. My cock pulses in time with the final ripples of pleasure running through her pussy, and she gasps each time. She wraps her arms around me, her legs still around my hips. She clings tight and I sit up, bringing her to straddle me. Her head rests on my shoulder, and I can't resist stroking her messy hair, trying to smooth down the curls from where she writhed all over the bed.

"If that's what heaven looks like," she says, sounding wiped, "I'm glad it's eternal."

I snort, wondering how this broad can drive me so crazy in so many different ways. "Me too, baby." I lean forward and lay her down in the bed.

Her eyelids flutter open so she can look at me. "I should leave," she whispers.

"Stay, angel. Please." I kiss her forehead one last time before lying down beside her and throwing an arm across her stomach, ignoring the knot in my own.

Must be something I ate.


I did it. I let go of everything, just like I wanted. I gave myself a night of freedom, of giving in to that younger version of myself that I constantly push against. I forgot every reservation, hesitation, concern. Every fear. I swept them from my mind and opened my eyes anew to be present with him. Masen.

I focused only on how he made me feel, the way my skin tingled in anticipation of his touch. His palms were so warm over my body, the calloused pad of his thumb on my clit was the most torturous kind of pleasure, and the feel of his tongue on my skin did things to me I'd forgotten were even possible. The memory of his dick, that perfect, gorgeous cock, has me rubbing my thighs together, ready for him again. He reminded me in every way, not only by the heat that built low in my stomach and spread, growing until I exploded, until I saw the stars of a heaven he promised, but also with the way my heart stuttered and ached for more.

It was intense and overwhelming, and I let it pour over me in waves, pulling me under, washing away the ghosts of my past and binding me to him. I was helpless and so swept-up.

Lines of ink that left me questioning and faltering dance behind my eyelids. Patterns of black and grey, heavy and light, all moving and flowing over shoulder blades and secret skin. A phoenix, rising in muted, two-toned flames, fierce and frightening. What does it mean to him? Has he been reborn? Rebuilt? All new, like I want to be? Did he pick and choose which parts to breathe new life to, or do his most haunting memories follow him like mine do me?

And the one that intrigues me still, an initial, right over his heart. Scrolling script, remnants of what he called another lifetime. In all my distancing, all my running and dodging and pushing and hiding, I think I can understand what he meant.

And now, in the unkind hours of a sleepless night, the things that haunt me edge back in, crawling and clawing into place like unwanted, too-familiar guests. Memories make me twitch and shift. I'm anxious, my heart-fluttering fear prompting me to action.

Masen's got his arm draped across my body, but he sleeps face down and soundly, his breathing deep and even, his handsome face only inches from my ear.

Masen. Masen. The echo of his name on my lips is almost strong enough to make me stay.

Instead, I remember my promise. I recall what it's like to be involved with a man who steals and deals and cheats. Who's always only a half-step ahead of being caught, of leaving me forever. Who would drag me along as damage in his wake if I allowed it. And it's the images of fists pounding on doors and warrants served and Miss Swan, we have a few questions for you that won't let me take the risk.

It won't happen again. Another promise.

I slide slowly from his reach, cautious and wary of every noise as I put on my dress. The ache in my chest, the one I've been ignoring since I saw that gun and knew I couldn't keep him, it expands. I press a palm over the pain, but it doesn't abate. It scratches and clings desperately to the inside of my ribs, reaching up my throat and making it hard to breathe. I should be resolved, unwavering, walking out the door like I planned. But something twists, and I stop.

Frozen and heart-hurt, I look over to his bare back, the sheet tossed haphazardly over his lower body, his arm still stretched out where he held me. And as much as I want this to be freedom, a night of nothing but passion, lust, and satisfied desires, I need just a little bit more.

Acting on impulse, I cross the floor to the nightstand and open a little box perched on top. There's a set of keys, some change, and a small silver pocket knife. Normal things. I pick up the knife and flip it in my palm. It's engraved: EAM.

With the cool weight of it in one hand and my shoes in the other, I walk softly out of his life.


Thoughts of my angel circle my sleep-clouded mind, of her warmth, her hair and eyes, the way she looked when she told me to fuck her. The memory makes my dick throb, but when I reach for her, I touch nothing but cold, empty sheets.

I'm too-awake in an instant, and all thoughts of tasting her, of fucking her pouty little mouth, are replaced with the kind of sinking regret so sharp it snaps into rage.

I'm out of bed and down the hall, slamming open doors, looking into corners and closets and expecting nothing. The realization that I don't even have a fucking phone number shifts my anger to shame; wounded pride at her silent departure slices and cuts deeper than the sharpest blade.

She said one night, but I didn't believe her. I thought for sure she didn't mean that, couldn't mean that.

The connection was there. I fucking felt it.

When I reach the living room and there's still no sign of her, I stop. Overwhelmed with anger, I pick up the only thing in my reach and sling it across the room without looking. The cracking of glass should make me feel better, but it only adds to my rage.

When I look at the little destruction, a sharp-edged metal picture frame thrown into a TV screen, it's not enough. I march bare-soled to the console and flip all sixty-two inches of already ruined television off its stand and let the crash drown out the yelled "Fuck!" that bubbles up from my throat.

I have to admit, I feel a little better.

Marching back to my bedroom, I look around for something, anything she might have left behind. A scrap of paper with her number on it, a wallet or a purse. Hell, a fucking glass slipper.

Even that fucking fucker in Cinderella had a piece of his girl to keep.

Shoe or no shoe, I will be looking for her.

That little taste of her wasn't nearly fucking enough.

After tearing apart my room and finding nothing, I check my cell. There are a few texts, Em and Jas checking in. I put Jas on it right away, firing off a text with shaking fingertips.

She bailed. Find her for me.

Now, I get to wait.

I take a shower and dress for the day: black suit, white shirt. I'm slipping on my watch and reaching for my keys when I notice. The lid to the box on my nightstand is tilted up. My keys are there, but my knife is gone.

My little angel's a klepto.

When I walk out of my place for the day, it's with a smile. I'll have to have that knife back.

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