* Mason *
Dash met Mason at Annie’s Diner as the sun was coming up, promising he had two guys on the man pretending to be Clover’s brother. He should text his secretary he wouldn’t be going in to work, but he didn’t have the energy. He’d camped out at the greasy spoon since they admitted Clover to the hospital, and the world-weary waitresses left him alone for the most part, figuring out quickly he wasn’t there for their burnt tasting coffee or perky conversations. Being so close to Tucker Memorial, they must serve a lot of people like him.
“She suffered a stabbing,” Dash reported bluntly, “Got a nurse to tell me it was a steak knife. Caught the meaty area between her shoulder and chest.”
“Fucking monsters,” Mason bit his lip to hold back from causing a scene, “What happens next?”
“The FBI will hound her shortly, now that she’s in recovery. The knife hit nothing important, but it was deep. She’ll be on bed rest for a long time, as to not open the wound, but Bentley won’t care about moving her.” Dash’s gaze moved to the window where they sat in a rear booth facing the door. The streets were filling up with early morning workers. “What do you expect Bentley’s next move will be?”
“I honestly can’t say. I’m actually surprised he allowed her medical attention at all.”
“Why’s that? He went through all that trouble of fucking with you two. If he called for help, my bet is that it wasn’t him who did this.”
“Maybe. He’s a sex trafficker Dash. Who knows what evil he’s capable of? Can I sneak into her room? I’ll wear a Disguise. I have to see her. She’s alone and scared.”
The older man drank his coffee quietly for a moment, considering their options, “She might tell you the information we need if she wakes. If I call in my ‘distraction’ we’ll be able to get you in as long as he’s not around. I really don’t want to mess this up. Bentley’s a small fish in a scheme of things, and my inside contact won’t come to the rescue if we lose the chance at locating the other missing women.”
“I won’t fuck it up,” Mason growled, beyond impatient, “but I can’t just let them take her. Not without a fight. I’ll break all the rules to save Clover from being taken twice by that fiend. Going to jail doesn’t scare me, but I promise to do what you suggest.”
Dash nodded like he already figured as much, “I’ll make some calls.”
An hour later, dressed in old jeans, a leather jacket, and a ball cap that hid his face, Mason followed discreetly behind Dash through busy corridors. His pulse hammered. Would Clover be happy to learn he never once stopped looking for her? What if she never recovered from what Bentley put her through? He had never felt so angry yet relieved at the same time when at last he slipped into a darkened room, laying eyes on red hair spread across white sheets.
“Clover!” his voice broke as he hurried to her.
She was asleep, a standard blue and tan hospital gown hiding her injury. He noticed dark circles under her twitchy eyelids. What horrors played through her unconscious mind? He picked up a hand not attached to monitors, kissing the back of it. She stirred a little before settling.
“Clover,” he hissed more insistently, “Wake up, sweetheart. I need you to wake up, baby.”
Her jade orbs peeked beneath heavy lids. She must be on some good drugs because she gave him a cheeky smile before falling back under. He cursed and kept calling her name until she roused once more.
“Mason?” she croaked, and his heart soared at the relief in her raspy voice.
“I’m here sweetheart,” he kissed her cool forehead, “I can’t stay long. Someone’s watching your room. Big guy with tattoos.”
“Kyyyyreeell,” she slurred, slowly blinking at her surroundings, “Where am I?”
His jaw clenched at her obvious weight loss. Had the bastard starved her? “The hospital. Who did this to you? Who else is with Bentley?”
She lost focus, slipping in and out, mumbling, “I’m sweeeeeet Sir… Reese baaaaad… Man-Bun Guy gonna bark.”
“What the hell?” His phone chirped, drawing his attention from her weird ramblings.
Dash: Two minutes.
“Clover,” he gently patted her cheek and those jade eyes seemed duller as she tried to fight against the pull of sleep, “You’re safe. They won’t come near you again.”
“She stabbed me,” she said so quietly he had to lean close to her lips to hear the rest. He wanted to kiss her, hold her, make certain she would be all right in his absence, but that was the selfish part of him. She would never be okay after this. “Sir won’t let me go.”
Mason saw red, “Fuck him. Clover, you don’t belong to him! We’ll put him behind bars where he belongs. He’ll get what’s coming to him. Stay strong, baby.”
She heard none of his promise, already asleep. It killed him to leave her so vulnerable. He took one last, hungry look at the woman he was sure he loved, and let Dash direct him outside into the sunshine, which held no warmth. Everything lacked luster since the day he’d realized Clover was missing.
“Learn any names?” Dash was eager for him to spill.
He ripped off the hat and ran his fingers viciously through his hair, pacing, the resigned tone of voice Clover had when talking about Bentley nettling his entire being. “Um… Kyrell is the name of the guy in the building. She claims Reese hurt her. That bitch came across as psycho, but why would she return to Ben?”
“You said it yourself, he’s manipulative.”
“She also mentioned something about a man-bun.”
Dash looked impressed, “Your girl’s a fighter. Was she high as a kite and still told you all that?”
Mason huffed, “Yeah, she was pretty out of it but… it sounds as if Bentley brainwashed her. I don’t know, it was like she’s done fighting.”
“Don’t read into anything,” Dash clapped him on the back, leading the way to his blacked-out SUV, “Now we have identities I can work with. I’ll watch over her. Why don’t you get some rest and—”
“Fuck that,” Mason pointed to his car parked a row away, “I’m staying right fucking here. He’ll make a play for her, and I’ll be here to catch him.”
* Bentley *
Irritated, and exhausted Bentley opened the fridge, smirking at Grant over his shoulder, “Should we feed our alley cat this morning or wait a few days?”
Grant gave a shrug from his seat at the counter, “Alisha didn’t make it fifty feet from the house before she passed out from nerves. I never slowed down, searching for that hooker you couldn’t tell fell in love with you.”
He grabbed eggs and found a pan, “Shut the fuck up. If Emmett doesn’t return with Reese, you’re up for promotion.”
“Come on, boss,” Grant groaned. He was a whiner, but loyal to a fault. “You know I don’t have the stomach to hurt those girls. Cooking and driving you around is one thing, but I hate when they cry.”
Working for Bentley turned Grant’s hair prematurely white, making him appear much older than his forty-five years. The man had a serious gambling problem, and he’d bailed him out for a life debt. Blood didn’t phase the bastard, but hurting women did. At least he never worried about his motives as he did with Kyrell and Emmett.
Bentley grinned as he cracked a few eggs into the warmed skillet, “You’re lucky I find uses for your lazy ass. I may as well be a babysitter with the way shit’s handled lately.”
“A sitter who makes millions scrambling girl’s brains for unwanted father figures,” he muttered.
“Watch it, asshole.” he snapped without heat, inwardly chuckling at his analogy.
His phone chimed in his pocket and he wanted to throw it after reading Emmett still hadn’t located Reese. How had the little redhead bested HIM?
“Fucking useless,” he grumbled, scrapping the eggs onto a paper plate, “Shove this through her slot then clean the mess in the garage.”
“Clover’s blood saturated the interior of your vehicle, but I’ll do my best.” Grant sighed, scooping up the dish.
He sank into a chair in the den and phoned Kyrell, who was quick to answer but sounded off.
“Report,” he barked.
“See now boss, somebody hit my car. They paged me and when I got there some lovely bird was flashing me all kinds of tits and ass and so we ended up in the good end in a dark place then I swear I saw a bloke lurking nearby.”
Bentley rubbed his eyes, not for the first time wishing he hadn’t brought Kyrell into the fold, “So you were dicking off instead of caring for Jade? Did the guy give a reach-around? What’s your fucking JOB?”
“The twats distracted me!” he growled, “The nurse allowed me into Clover’s room after swearing I was family. I think someone visited her. She… um…”
“Spit it out!”
“She keeps muttering Mason’s name… singing like a canary.”
He sat up, “You idiot! Mason came. Why hasn’t he done anything? He’s a fucking goody-two-shoes hero of the day type!”
“Can’t say. Your bird is flying high though, so maybe it’s subconscious? I made sure the room phone doesn’t work but during the 4 am shift change is the best time to move Clover, I mean… Jade. Cops will come at me for answers. Gotta be tonight.”
“Perfect,” he stood, anxious at the thought of Mason near her, “Maintain a low profile.”
Bentley went to his bedroom, crashing onto the sheets that still smelt like his Jade Dragon. Would she still be his ornery but bashful lover after such a painful ordeal? There was a reason he refrained from causing her unnecessary anguish. She responded better to psychological distress, not to mention her inferiority complex. Exploiting her compulsion to sacrifice herself for the welfare of others worked brilliantly before Reese ruined it, but finding another trigger for her compliance should be easy.
He clutched the bedspread at the knowledge she called out for Mason. His name was the only one that should pass through her sweet lips. His! Lessons. She needed harsher lessons to grasp who she belonged to.
Mason had more than enough money to hire people if he wanted to locate him. He switched phones after stealing Clover. Adley screwing with his company had been a game. Distraction was key when misleading the enemy.
Where did Reese run off to? He never imagined she would turn on him as she did. She’d resisted the conditioning at first, but coming from a broken home where daddy enjoyed beating the shit out of her, soon fell in line like all the others. Sousing out women’s weaknesses, his super-power and discovering hers had hit close to his own childhood. There had to be something redeemable in the bitch, even if he sold her for a measly buck to a man or woman who’d keep her chained in a leaky basement while filling her holes with spikes for the rest of her sorry life. Admitting he failed wasn’t an option, and she would pay for embarrassing him and damaging his prize.
Note to self, find a plastic surgeon no one would miss.
He tossed and turned, only getting a few hours of sleep before deciding to put the final touches on extracting his girl from the hospital. If Mason or men he hired knew where she was, the clock was ticking.
“She needs me,” he muttered to himself while gathering his things, “Nothing can keep us apart.”