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Well, the good news was, my sister pulled together one hundred thousand dollars for me which was a nice thing for her to do. The bad news was, I liked me as I knew me and I didn’t want to be any different kind of Gwen.

“I say we put her out to bid,” Darla suggested and my eyes opened to see she was standing beside Skull and he was looking up at her.

“Patience,” Skull muttered.

“Fuck patience,” Darla returned. “Ginger is probably goin’ through her pile, keepin’ her ass alive. Maybe she doesn’t have the two hundred. And Tack hasn’t had a taste of that and she’s spreadin’ ‘em for Hawk. Maybe he’s not gonna go there.”

“Patience,” Skull repeated.

“Dude,” Skeet put in, getting closer to the bed, “I just drilled three rounds into Hawk’s man. He’s probably tearin’ Denver apart, I did that and we got his pu**y. We don’t have time to be patient.”

I closed my eyes again.

Three rounds.

Brett.

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I sucked in breath through my nose as I felt tears stinging my sinuses.

“Patience,” I heard Skull murmur.

“This is bullshit,” cigarette kidnapper entered the conversation and I opened my eyes to see he did it from his place, leaning against the wall, one knee cocked, sole of his boot to the wall, smoking another cigarette. “We shouldn’t’ve dicked around with f**kin’ Ginger and f**kin’ Tack in the first place. Those ass**les who want Ginger, they’d pay huge to have a tool to use to lean on that stupid bitch and get her outta hidin’. No more waitin’.”

“Patience,” Skull said yet again, not moving.

“Fuck patience!” Skeet, the most coked up, the one who bought Hawk’s extreme displeasure and therefore the one most wired, shouted.

Skull slowly stood, I watched and the room tensed even further. I understood why. He just straightened from his chair but he did it in a way that was scary. I couldn’t describe how but the way he did it was a physical threat, one you just simply didn’t want carried out. He was not happy he was forced to move and no one in that room was unaware of that fact.

“Patience,” he whispered.

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That was when the door crashed open and both the windows on either the side of the bed exploded inward because men rappelled through them. Jorge was one, I didn’t see the other but the man through the door was Hawk and he was followed by a man I didn’t know but was somehow familiar to me.

Darla screeched, Skeet and cigarette man flew into action but it was way too late and they were way under-trained to take on Hawk and his commandos. In no time at all, the four of them were on the floor, on their bellies, wearing plastic restraints like mine and the man who came through the other window, another man I did not know but he also looked familiar and he wasn’t one of Hawk’s commandos, was training a gun on them.

If I had allowed myself to feel anything other than relief at that moment, I would have found it strange that, even in the quick, brutal commotion, Skull didn’t put up a fight. He seemed like a fighter to me, a fight to the death kind of fighter.

Instead my eyes followed Hawk who, after he subdued Skeet with laughable ease (not that I was laughing), came direct to me. He pulled something out of a pocket of his cargoes and his knee went to the bed.

“On your belly, baby,” he whispered even as he gently put pressure on me to take me facedown on the bed. I felt his warm, strong hands working at my wrists and they were released.

When they were, I whimpered behind my gag, pulled them around and pins and needles shot through my arms. Hawk moved down the bed quickly and my ankles were freed.

I rolled to my back and Hawk helped me into a sitting position then both of our hands went to my gag. Mine were shaking so I let him pull it out and up over my head after which he tossed it aside.

Then his eyes came to mine.

“Brett,” I whispered.

“Critical,” he whispered back.

I never thought I would have to worry about what kind of woman I was. You never think you’ll have to worry about that because you can never imagine life will lead you to times where you’ll have to learn that knowledge. And, later, I would give headspace to wishing I was a stronger woman. One who could nod, keep her shit together and take the hit to her soul that came from knowing a human being took bullets to keep her safe.

But I wasn’t that kind of woman.

I was the kind of woman who launched herself in a full frontal assault at her new boyfriend, connected so violently his powerful frame rocked back, shoved her face in his neck, wrapped her arms tight around him and burst into tears.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Skull

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I sat in the hospital waiting room, leaning against Meredith, Elvira on my other side, her hand holding mine firm and strong.

Dad was standing across the waiting room with Hawk, a handful of Hawk’s commandos and other men. One was Lee Nightingale, another Luke Stark, the third Hank Nightingale, the last, Eddie Chavez. Lee and Luke were the two men who assisted Hawk in the rescue effort. It came to me after I’d been swept from the apartment how I knew them. Lee Nightingale owned a private investigation service whose action had caught the attention of the media. I knew all about him and his friends, including Luke, Hank and Eddie. Luke worked with Lee. Hank was his brother and a cop. Eddie was his friend and also a cop. The newspapers had broken the stories of their adventures, and their love lives, some time ago. This was followed by a bunch of books, a series entitled Rock Chick, that were released sharing intimate detail of these hair-raising yet romantic adventures. Books, incidentally, I owned, read repeatedly and wished I’d edited.

They were all famous in Denver.

They were all, upon inspection, also badasses and extremely hot.

Even so, this was lost on me because I’d met Betsy and she was currently visiting her unconscious fiancé in his hospital room and I knew conversation was one-sided not only because Brett was unconscious but also because he had a tube down his throat.

I closed my eyes but opened them when I sensed a quick, intense danger permeate the room and then my body tensed for flight when Skull, followed by Lawson, Leo and two other men stalked into the room.

His eyes were on Hawk and it appeared he was even more unhappy than he was prior to my rescue. Then again, he would be seeing as I was rescued.

My eyes were on him, my skin was tingling, my mind was paralyzed with fear and even in the presence of a goodly number of badass commandos and just plain badasses my body was ready to take flight.

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