I threw some toiletries and clothes into my ratty backpack and zipped it up. Briggs was waiting in the kitchen with his bodyguard. They were talking quietly, but the walls were thin in the old trailer. I could hear every word they were saying.
The bodyguard roughed Frank up before letting him go. Fresh terror surged through my veins when he described the threats Frank made. My innocent mind couldn’t even begin to comprehend the type of sex acts they were talking about. The heroes in my romance novels weren’t that depraved. Did Shelly let Frank do those things to her? Probably. My older sister was fearless.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and walked back to the kitchen. They stopped talking when I appeared. I grabbed my jacket from the back of the chair, dropping my backpack on the floor while I put it on. The bodyguard scooped it up and headed outside.
“Ready?” Briggs asked.
“Yes,” I whispered, my voice shaky.
“Everything is going to be okay, Layla,” he said. “You can trust me.”
“I don’t have any other choice right now.”
The bodyguard returned, holding out a ball cap for Briggs. “There seems to be a lot of people walking by,” he explained.
“Thanks, Vlad,” Briggs muttered. He took the hat and placed it on his head, pulling the beak down low.
Vlad. So the bodyguard was Russian.
Vlad led us outside to the fancy black car parked in my driveway. Several people gathered across the street, gawking and whispering. It wasn’t everyday that a car like that showed up at Dorset Meadows. He opened the door, gesturing for me to climb into the backseat.
I slid across the leather seat. My hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t do up my seatbelt.
“Let me help,” Briggs offered, leaning across the seat.
The intoxicating scent of some kind of woodsy cologne or aftershave infiltrated my nostrils, triggering an unfamiliar reaction in my body. Every nerve ending tingled with awareness. Something was happening between my legs. But it wasn’t like the heroines in my romance novels described it.
My sexually experienced characters often used colourful descriptions to describe their wetness, like a beautiful experience in their panties, preparing their vaginal flower for penetration. What a bunch of bull that was. It felt like I peed my pants. Plain and simple. And as soon as Briggs moved away, the warm wetness changed to cold discomfort.
But what if he did more than just buckle up my seatbelt? What if reached down and rubbed me through my jeans? Or slipped one of those big hands down the front of my pants? What would that feel like?
What the hell was wrong with me? Who fantasizes about getting fingered by a stranger, less than an hour after being sexually assaulted and almost raped by another man? Not Layla Lucas.
I was a good girl. I’d made it my mission in life to be as different from my mother and sister as humanly possible. Growing up with a mother who brought home a different man every week scarred me for life. My half-sister followed the example Mom set out for us. By the age of fifteen, Shelly was bringing home boys, and grown men. My mother was too sick to notice or care. She was already battling lung cancer by then. Somehow, she hung on until Shelly was eighteen. She died two days after my sister became an adult. And I use that term very loosely.
“Are you okay over there?”
The deep timber of Briggs’ voice snapped me out of my depressing thoughts about my shitty childhood.
“I’m fine,” I replied, my voice coming out in a hoarse whisper.
“You’re safe now,” he promised. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, Layla.”
“Why?” he repeated, crinkling his brow.
“Yes. Why do you care what happens to me?”
“Well,” he said, rubbing his jaw. “For one thing, you’re the aunt of my children.”
“One who they will never have any contact with.”
“And I’m not a heartless monster who could leave a young girl in a situation where she would be raped,” he continued, ignoring what I said.
“Could you please stop using that word? I don’t like it.”
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “It’s been a long, emotional day for both of us. How about we agree to talk more tomorrow?”
I turned to look out the window. We were heading back toward downtown. I never even asked Briggs where his condo was located. Vlad took the Don Valley Parkway South, exiting at Richmond and heading toward Old Toronto.
“You live at the Shangri La?” I gasped when we entered a private garage off Adelaide Street.
The Shangri La was one of the tallest buildings in Toronto. The towering glass monolith rose high above the entertainment district, right in the heart of downtown.
“I stay here during the hockey season, when I’m not on the road,” he explained. “But I may sell it now that I’m retired.”
Vlad parked the car and retrieved my backpack from the trunk. I followed Briggs to the elevator with his bodyguard right behind us. Why did he need security? He wasn’t a rock star or a movie star. Did all professional athletes have bodyguards?
I glanced around the small parking garage. The only other vehicle was a large black SUV. Vlad punched in a code on a panel next to the elevator and the doors slid open. I backed into the corner, my eyes scanning the buttons to see which floor he pushed. But there were no numbers!
“What floor do you live on?” I asked.
“The sixty-fifth,” Briggs replied, eyeing me curiously. “This is a private elevator. I live in the penthouse.”
“Of course you do,” I muttered.
Briggs blinked before his lips curved up, an amused grin spreading across his face as those mesmerizing eyes locked onto mine. “Excuse me?”
I dropped my eyes to the floor. Why did I say that? This man was just trying to help me. And he was the victim in the story. My sister was not the injured party. She drugged and sexually assaulted someone for financial gain. If the roles were reversed, and a man had done what she did, he would be tarred and feathered by the media before the justice system locked him away for a very long time.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I should not have said that.”
“I’m more interested in why you said it, than I am in an apology.”
I stared at the worn canvas on my shoes. My Giant Tiger specials weren’t going to last much longer.
“Could you explain that comment, please?”
Okay. He wasn’t letting that go. I dug deep for some courage and lifted my head. Instead of the annoyance and anger I expected, Briggs’ eyes danced with mirth. He thought this situation was funny?
“I’m so glad I’ve been able to entertain you today,” I snapped, crossing my arms over my chest. Unfortunately, when you’re top-heavy, that action tends to push your boobs up. And when you wear v neck t-shirts, well you get the idea.
“I wasn’t, that isn’t,” he stuttered, his struggle to keep his eyes on my face so typical of a pig like him. “Never mind.”
We rode the rest of the way up in silence. Which was less than a minute. My ears were popping by the time the elevator came to a stop. I’d never been that high up before. When the doors opened, we were in the foyer of Briggs’ condo.
“I cannot picture three little boys living here,” I blurted out as my eyes took in glass stairs. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea. And the white walls and pillars? This wasn’t a home. It was a sterile box. Floor to ceiling windows covered every outside wall, providing a breathtaking view of the city below.
“Me either,” he agreed. “Another reason to sell it.”
What was I doing there? I looked ridiculous, standing in the middle of a luxury penthouse in my second-hand clothes. And I felt very uncomfortable.
“Would you like me to show you to your room?” he asked, scooping up my backpack.
I glanced around the room. Where did Vlad disappear to? I didn’t want to be alone with Briggs!
“I don’t bite,” he teased.
“Your condo is very nice,” I offered meekly.
He shrugged. “It’s not my favourite place to be, but it’s convenient right now.”
“I guess it is,” I agreed. “Mount Sinai isn’t far from here.”
“You could walk.”
“I’d love to walk, but the paparazzi are circling like vultures right now. It’s not worth the trouble.”
“That must get really annoying.”
“Yeah,” he agreed with a heavy sigh. “It does.”
“Where are you planning to take the babies when they get released?”
“I have a house in the Muskokas.”
“Layla?” He tilted his head, studying me with a half-grin.
“Are you planning to come in at some point?”
“No,” I choked out. “I’ll just sleep here on the floor.”
“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to a fancy marble bench.
I sat down, eyeing him nervously when he knelt down in front of me. “What are you doing?” I gasped when he untied my laces and removed my right shoe.
“What does it look like?” he asked as he reached for my other shoe.
“I can take my own shoes off.”
“I’m sure you can, but I’d like to show you to your suite before sunrise.”
“It’s only eight o’clock!”
“Uh-huh,” he agreed, rising to his feet. “But you’ve been standing in my foyer for ten minutes without moving. I thought you might need a little nudge.”
“I’m nervous,” I admitted.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said, holding out his hand. “C’mon.”
I accepted his outstretched hand, his giant mitt swallowing my tiny fingers as he pulled me to my feet. His hand was warm, his skin rough and calloused. He grabbed my backpack with his other hand before leading me toward the stairs.
“After you,” he said, letting go of my hand as he gestured for me to go ahead of him.
I grabbed the railing, taking each glass stair with caution so I didn’t fall on my ass. When we reached the second floor, he led me down the hall, pushing open a door at the end.
“You have your own private bathroom,” he explained, nodding toward a closed door. “It’s stocked with toiletries. If there’s anything you need that isn’t in there, just let me know.”
“Thank you,” I said, staring at the wooden floor.
“If you want to open the blinds, there’s a switch over there.”
“Well, I’ll leave you then,” he said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Good night.”
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