Masters and Mercenaries Novella, Book 8.5

A man who gave up on love

Bradford is an intimidating man. In his professional life, he has a reputation for demolishing his opponents in the courtroom. At the exclusive BDSM club Sanctum, he prefers disciplining pretty submissives with no strings attached. In his line of work, there’s no time for a healthy relationship. After a few failed attempts, he knows he’s not good for any woman—especially not his best friend’s sister.

A woman who always gets what she wants

Laurel Daley knows what she wants, and her sights are set on Mitch. He’s smart and sexy, and it doesn’t matter that he’s a few years older and has a couple of bitter ex-wives. Watching him in action at work and at play, she knows he just needs a little polish to make some woman the perfect lover. She intends to be that woman, but first she has to show him how good it could be.

A killer lurking in the shadows

Assigned to work together on an important case, Mitch and Laurel are confronted with the perfect opportunity to explore their mutual desire. Night after night of being close breaks down Mitch’s defenses. The more he sees of Laurel, the more he knows he wants her. Unfortunately, someone else has their eyes on Laurel and they have murder in mind.

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Reviews

These short novellas are at their best when you feel like you have just finished an epic novel, and Lexi is the master of them. She is able to weave a tale that has you in its grasp until you get to the end. The world around you stops existing, and you live for the story alone. ~ Knotty Kitty, The Smutty Kitty, thesmuttykitty.com

Lexi Blake’s newest addition to the Masters and Mercenaries series is a novella entitled Adored. That’s exactly how I felt about this story after reading it in one sitting. I absolutely adored it from the very first page. With each new addition to this fantastic series, I found myself further impressed with Ms. Blake’s ability to weave an emotional, suspenseful riveting tale. ~ Robin, Sizzling Hot Books, sizzlinghotbooks.com

This story was packed with emotion, suspense and scorching heat but also had some mystery and more than a few chuckles along the way and I loved it! ~ Jilly, Read-Love-Blog, read-love-blog.com

With flashes of humor, some hot sex, emotional turmoil, and an intriguing plot, this tangential story to the Masters and Mercenaries series is a fun little read. ~ Purest Delight, Shadow, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews, guiltypleasuresbookreviews.com

With moments of passion, heartbreak, tension, and excitement, ADORED kept me on the edge of my seat, turning the pages like a mad woman; hoping and craving for that happily every after that Ms. Blake gives us time and time again. Tantalizing and extremely thrilling, Ms. Blake brought out all the feels in this one, leaving me longing for more. ~ Shayna, Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads, shaynareneesspicyreads.com

I didn’t want to put this book down! The chemistry between Mitch and Laurel is combustible! Can we say Office Sex! Yes Please! I didn’t want it to end! I really enjoyed this book! ~ Kristin, Girly Girls Book Reviews, girlygirlbookreviews.com

The characters are awesome but definitely not perfect. Their emotional struggles will have you cringing at times, almost crying at others and cheering yet at others. Definitely a roller coaster and the ride is well worth it. ~ Night Owl Reviews Top Pick, Terri, nightowlreviews.com

As with the other books in this amazing series, I was totally hooked from the first page. Lexi Blake knows exactly how to grab a reader's attention and draw them into the story, she's a genius! I loved this book, I couldn't find anything negative about it. Five stars!~ Julie, JJ's Kinky Books, jjsKinkyBooks.blogspot.co.uk


Excerpt

Chapter One

Mitchell Bradford stared down at the phone and wondered if he could somehow manage to reach through it and strangle the man on the other end of the line. His office was cool, but he could feel the temperature rising with each word he heard. He was certain Kai Ferguson would tell him he had anger issues and should come in for a session. Then Mitch could kill the fucker in person. “What do you mean you paired Laurel with the new Master? Which Laurel would that be because you couldn’t possibly be talking about Laurel Daley, my paralegal. I believe I told Big Tag that she was to be refused admission to Sanctum.”

Kai chuckled over the line. “Oh, you know, Big Tag has a soft spot for a well-meaning sub.”

He took his cell off speaker and pressed it to his ear, as though bringing it closer would make his point more clear. “The only thing Laurel means by joining Sanctum is to push me into a jealous rage. She’s manipulating me. That means she’s manipulating Tag, too. Deny her application, Kai.”

Laurel Daley was rapidly becoming a pain in his…damn it. Thinking about the gorgeous, not even thirty-year-old brunette made his cock hard. She was stunning. Smart and capable, he’d thought about firing her more than once because his brain shut off the minute she walked in a room. He’d hired her sight unseen because she was his best friend’s sister. She’d needed a job and he’d needed help.

His best friend. There had been times Will Daley had been his only friend. Will had picked him up and dusted him off and made sure he didn’t kill himself with booze. How did he tell his best friend in the world that he wanted to fuck his sister so badly he dreamed about it every night?

He might have been able to deal with the entire situation if Laurel hadn’t lost her damn mind and decided she wanted him, too.

One of them had to be sensible.

"I can’t deny her application. She’s perfectly sane.” Kai was his other friend. He and Will and Kai had taken to hanging out together. Unfortunately Kai was also the gateway to Sanctum. He was the club’s resident shrink, with the power to approve or disapprove membership applications.

"You wouldn’t think that if you saw how pissed off she gets at fictional characters. The woman yells at her e-reader. She threw it across the room the other day and her only explanation was that someone named Joshua Lake was being a butthead.” He’d narrowly missed having his head taken off with the damn thing. Luckily, the e-reader seemed pretty tough. The thing hadn’t had a scratch on it and she was right back to reading after she’d finished the first draft of the contract she was working on.

Kai chuckled over the line. “Those women are serious about their book boyfriends. If that was a sign of insanity, I would have to get rid of most of the submissives at Sanctum. Face it, Mitch. You’re going to have to deal with her.”

Laurel would soon be running around Sanctum, likely wearing very little.

Sanctum was his sanctuary. It was a BDSM club, a very exclusive one. He’d had to pay through the nose and give Ian Taggart, the owner, a massive discount on legal services in order to get in. Apparently all his paralegal had to do was bat her eyelashes. His stomach turned and he wondered if he had any antacids. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would do if he couldn’t spend his nights at Sanctum. His friends were there. It was how he blew off steam.

So take her and train her. She wants to learn about D/s and you want to find out how tight her pussy is and how she’ll whimper when you fuck her hard. You can have her sign a contract. This is actually perfect, dude. Stop thinking so much and let me take over. Have I ever steered you wrong, buddy?

"Mitch, is your penis talking to you again?”

He should never have admitted that to a shrink. He tried to move the conversation back to the point. “Why did you pick Master T? He’s obviously wrong for her.”

He wasn’t going into the fact that his libido was sometimes a voice inside his head. And fuck you very much, penis, but yes, his dick had led him astray on numerous occasions leading to two disastrous marriages. Twice he’d been forced to start his life over again with nothing. He’d had to build not one, not two, but three businesses from scratch, and he wasn’t doing that again. No matter how well intentioned he would be going into a casual relationship with Laurel Daley, he knew how it would end up. It would start with amazing sex and end in divorce because the only thing stupider than his dick was his heart.

"Master T has become quite proficient at all aspects of D/s. I think he’s a good match for training Laurel,” Kai explained in a very logical voice.

Master T. They were all using the alias, but Mitch happened to know that Master T was actually Tennessee Smith, disavowed CIA agent in deep cover. He didn’t have all the specifics of Ten’s new mission. He only knew that the handsome agent was dangerous and that meant Laurel should stay away from him. Ian was planning to use Sanctum to run some kind of operation in the next couple of months, and Mitch didn’t want Laurel anywhere near Smith when he got to work. Hell, he didn’t want her anywhere near the handsome ex-agent for any reason.

"What about the married Masters?” It was how things were done at Sanctum. The married Masters tended to be the most experienced. They and their submissives often trained both Doms and subs for several months.

There was a pause on the line. “She’s worked with Ian and Liam for six weeks. They think she’s ready to move on and so do I.”

He stopped, the phone heavy in his hand. “She’s been going to Sanctum?”

"She comes in on Thursday nights for training and works the nursery on Saturday nights.”

Well, that explained it. He didn’t go in on Thursdays and there was no reason for him to ever visit the nursery. “And no one thought to tell me my paralegal has joined the club I attend?”

Kai's voice went a bit hard. “I’m only telling you now out of courtesy because Master T prefers to train on Friday nights. The confidentiality of our club members is very important, as you would know.”

"But she’s Laurel. You know what she means to me,” he rasped into the phone. Laurel was all he could think about half the time.

"Then you should have claimed her, Mitchell. She’s done waiting for you and I think it’s the healthiest choice she’s made in the time I’ve known her. I applaud her for taking control of her life and deciding what she wants. She wants to explore D/s. You won’t train her.”

"You know why I won’t train her.” He’d already fucked up his life beyond repair. Twice. He wasn’t about to screw up hers, too. He was too old for her. He was too rough and hard for her. She was a kid starting out and he’d run through all his chances.

"Yes, I fully understand all of your psychological reasons for pushing her aside. That is your choice. This is hers.”

"She’s trying to manipulate me. She thinks if I have to see her with another man, I’ll come around.”

A long sigh came over the line and Mitch could practically feel the weight of Kai’s disappointment. “Then this is your chance to prove her wrong, Mitch. You should thank me. Master T will be taking responsibility for her. I believe they’re signing a month-long contract. If it doesn’t work out, I’ve got a couple of Doms looking for permanent partners. You don’t have to worry anymore. She’ll be taken care of. She won’t bother you once she’s found a proper top.”

She wouldn’t bother him? Seeing Laurel was the best part of his day. He’d hired her six months before and every second of every day since had been about catching sight of her or arguing some point of law with her or trying to keep his hands off her. The idea of her with another man…

"Let me find her a Dom. It can’t be Master T. He’s too old for her. He’s too cold.”

"He’s too much like you?” Kai’s voice had softened, was almost sympathetic.

"She deserves better.” He was ten years older than her and about a hundred years wiser, though much of his wisdom was made of things a sane person would avoid. “She’s a bright light, Kai. She’s one of those people you can’t help but adore. She shouldn’t be with a Master who will grind her under his boot. She needs someone young and positive.”

"Does it help if I tell you her contract forbids sex for the first three weeks? They can decide afterward if they want to take the relationship further.”

Did it help? Not really. “She needs more. Even during training. Have you thought about Theo Taggart? I know he’s in the program. Or Michael Malone?”

He hated the idea of either man laying hands on her, but he had to stop being a selfish prick. She was lonely. He wanted her to be happy. Theo Taggart had a ready smile and a positive outlook on life and Malone came from a wealthy, loving, completely functional family. Neither man had been married before so they didn’t have three tons of baggage they dragged through life.

"Mitch, will you listen to yourself? This is ridiculous. She wants you. She’s made that plain.”

"She’s a little girl with daddy issues.”

A sharp gasp had him turning around pronto. Shit. Why hadn’t he closed the door? Laurel Daley stood there, a clipboard in her hand and her face about three shades paler than normal. “Kai, I’m going to have to call you back.”

"She’s listening, isn’t she?” Kai sounded almost excited at the prospect. “I can be there in twenty minutes for a session if you like. I think if we all sit down, we can find a middle ground…”

He hung up. Kai could go on and on about therapy, and Mitch wasn’t interested. He set the phone down. “You could knock, you know.”

Yes, arrogance worked in situations like this. No wonder his wives always left him.

Laurel's jaw tightened. “Sharon was at lunch so I was watching the front desk. You have a walk-in. Do you want me to tell him to go away? He claims it’s urgent.”

Urgent was way better than dealing with her wounded eyes. “What’s his name? Or rather company name?”

He was an expert at corporate law. He’d specialized this time around, taking on no partners who could potentially fuck his wife and then take his business over. He was a high-priced consultant. His only real courtroom work anymore was when his friends needed him. He’d recently dealt with a tenancy issue for Sean Taggart’s restaurant, Top, and managed to get Case Taggart’s speeding tickets taken care of. Dude needed less road rage. So he didn’t get a whole ton of walk-in clients. It was usually Big Tag trying to get him to sue someone who had pissed him off. He only tried the lawsuits because his wife, Charlotte, had forbidden assassinations.

Yep, this was his world. He wasn’t sure sweet Laurel Daley fit into it. No. That wasn’t right. He didn’t want Laurel in it. She should be married with a few babies, depending on a husband who loved her and only her and had never made the kinds of mistakes Mitch had made.

"He’s with a firm called Dixon Technologies.”

It didn’t ring a bell, but he often dealt with tech firms. They constantly had intellectual property issues. “Send him in.”

"All right. I’ll try to put aside my daddy issues long enough to go out there and give him directions to your office.”

When she turned that smart mouth on him his cock pulsed, but then it pretty much did that whenever she walked into a room. He was thirty-eight. She wasn’t even thirty. Why couldn’t his dick pick a more appropriate focus?

Because I want that one. God, just fucking look at her, man. Look at those breasts. Firm. Round. So sweet. And that bratty mouth. Come on, hands. Aren’t you itching to smack that pretty ass?

"Laurel.” He put a little bite to his tone.

She turned immediately and her eyes slid to the floor before coming back up. She steeled herself as though she needed to remember not to defer to him. Yeah, his dick liked that, too. He’d realized his mistake about five minutes after she walked through his door. Laurel was a natural submissive. She deferred to those around her, sometimes to the point of burying her own needs. It was exactly the kind of thing a well-meaning Dominant partner could help her with. A Dom with good intentions, who loved and cared for her, would protect her and teach her how valuable she was.

"What?” Her chin came up and a stubborn glint hit her eyes.

He knew her well enough at this point to know this was Laurel trying to shove her emotions deep. He’d said something that hurt her. He should gather her up and put her in his lap and stroke her hair while he apologized. Unfortunately, that would lead to fucking her on his desk, so he settled for words. “I don’t suppose you heard the part of the conversation where I talked about how I wanted you to be happy?”

She was obviously unmoved. “Nope and I know you have a very creative mind so I’ll suspend my disbelief.” She stopped and her mouth softened slightly. “I take it you found out about me joining the trainee program at Sanctum.”

I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think it’s professional for the two of us to be at the same club together. I count on that club, Laurel. The few friends I have in life are there.”

"All right. I’ll let them know I won’t be coming anymore.” She took a deep breath and there was a hollowness to her expression he despised. It was only there for a moment and then her face was a polite blank. “Do you need anything? Coffee? You skipped lunch. I could get you a sandwich.”

"Just like that? You’ll leave it like that? I expected more of a fight out of you.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t join to cause you harm or to take something away from you. I joined because I wanted to explore that side of myself. Since you’ve made it plain that my presence takes away from your enjoyment of something you need, I’ll leave.”

How did she do this to him? She’d had him in knots since the moment he’d met her.

Could you give me a couple of minutes to catch up? I didn’t even know you were interested in the lifestyle.”

Now her inner brat made an appearance, those pretty blue eyes rolling. “Of course you did, Mitchell. That’s a complete cop out and unworthy of you, counselor. If you’re going to defend yourself at least do it properly. You’ve known I was interested in D/s since the moment you hired me.”

He had. He’d found books by Sanctum’s resident authors, Amber Rose and Dakota Cheyenne. Silly pen names for Serena Dean-Miles and Laurel’s sister-in-law, Bridget Daley. Bridget was the one who had sparked Laurel’s interest, though he’d rather thought it had all been a means to an end. “I thought it was really me you were interested in.”

She stepped back in his office. The whole place had been redecorated. It had been a dull beige with brown carpets and fixtures from the seventies when he’d bought it and he’d done nothing to update until Laurel had taken the project over. Now the whole office was modernized, with the exception of his desk. Laurel had tried to get rid of it, but he’d put his foot down. His crappy old chair had been replaced with something ergonomic. A week in he’d noticed his shoulder didn’t hurt anymore after a long day. He’d also noticed how the brighter colors had livened up the place, given it an elegance and grace that matched the woman who had overseen its design.

"You’ve made it very clear that you’re not interested in pursuing a relationship with me, Mitch. You made it clear that night. I’ve stayed away since then.”

The night he’d gotten slightly drunk in Hawaii and kissed her. It had been her brother’s impromptu wedding that had done it. He’d been Will Daley’s best man and watched as his friend married the woman of his dreams. Sure Will had some surly, mouthy and bratty dreams, but Bridget was also creative and funny and kind.

A lot like Laurel.

Watching Will get married made him wonder what it would have been like if he’d met Laurel before. Before his divorces. Before life had ground him down. When she’d joined him on the beach, he hadn’t been able to resist pulling her into his arms and finally tasting her mouth. He could still feel how soft she was, how her body had fit perfectly against his. And he could still see how hurt she’d been when he’d pushed her away.

"That night was a mistake. I shouldn’t have kissed you.”

Her eyes slid away from his. “Yes, you’ve mentioned it a couple of times.”

"So why join my club?”

"Because it’s the only one I’m allowed to join. I tried to find another one. My brother took exception.”

Mitch felt his stomach drop. “You went to another club?”

She shrugged. “I knew you wouldn’t like me going to Sanctum. Honestly, I thought it was weird going to a club with my brother, too. So I found another one out in the suburbs. Horrible, actually. Anyway, I went twice and Will found out and he showed up and hauled me out. It was horrifically embarrassing. I spent some time on a website, but nothing panned out. Bridget invited me to Sanctum and then I think with all the babies they needed subs who were willing to work the daycare, so I signed on. I might still offer to work with the babies. I’ve grown quite fond of them.”

He was stuck on the fact that not only had she gone to some club he knew nothing about, but she’d spent time on the Internet. “What did you do, Laurel? Did you upload a profile at FetLife? Maybe advertise on Craig’s List for a Dom? Do you want someone to murder you? Because that’s pretty much what you’re asking for.”

Her jaw firmed, eyes flashing, and he was pretty sure this was one of those times it would have been better to take a step back and measure his words. “I wanted to figure myself out, you giant ass. What right do you have to tell me what I can and…” Another deep breath. “It no longer matters. I’ll let Mr. Dixon know you can see him now.”

"Laurel, we’re not done discussing this.”

Her eyes narrowed and he was sure she was about to tell him where he could shove it when a thin man with wire-framed glasses stepped into the doorway.

"Mr. Bradford, thank god. It’s imperative that I speak with you.”

He wasn’t done with Laurel. He needed to make her understand that the way she was going about this wasn’t good.

And how should she go about it? He’d told her she couldn’t go to the safest place. Then told her she couldn’t go anywhere else either. She was trying to figure herself out. If she meant those words, how could he hold her back? Didn’t she deserve the same chance he’d had?

No. Laurel is supposed to be normal. Laurel is supposed to not need the rough stuff because she’s a sweet princess. Wake up. This is what you do. You put a woman on a pedestal. You aren’t sexually liberated. You’re still the same pathetic boy who wanted his father to take two seconds with him.

Now who had daddy issues?

"Mr. Bradford?” the man asked.

"Laurel,” he said, more softly this time. “Can we please discuss this further?”

She shook her head. “There’s no need. I’ll keep my private life private from now on.”

"Hey, I’m serious about needing to talk,” the man said, his shoulders straightening.

"In a minute, buddy.” He needed to talk to Laurel. He didn’t like the look in her eyes. In that moment he realized the only thing worse than having Laurel around was not having her around. If she quit, he wouldn’t be able to watch out for her. He wouldn’t know where she was or what she was getting into—like offering herself up on the fucking Internet. “Laurel, let’s talk.”

"No. I need to talk, damn it.” The thin man had turned a brilliant shade of red and sweat had broken out on his forehead. “You have to listen to me, Bradford. My brother is going to kill you. Harvey has sworn to not stop trying until you and everyone you love is dead.”

room seemed to chill.

Okay, then. Why don’t you sit down?” It looked like his talk with Laurel was going to have to wait.

* * * *

Thank god for crazy people and their death threats. Laurel Daley sat down and was very aware that most people wouldn’t be happy that their boss had been threatened, but it was a well-timed announcement. She’d been about to cry and she’d promised herself she wouldn’t do that over Mitchell Bradford anymore.

Besides, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone had threatened to kill her cantankerous boss. Hell, she thought about doing the deed herself about ten times a day. She was thinking about doing it now.

What right did he have to tell her she couldn’t go to Sanctum? Asshole. Selfish prick.

She’s a bright light, Kai. She’s one of those people you can’t help but adore.

prick who said the sweetest things when he thought no one was listening. He was also a selfish prick with serious insecurities, with a truckload of baggage it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to plow through.

"I understand your brother is angry with me,” Mitch was saying. He was back behind the massive desk he hadn’t allowed her to get rid of. It was a refugee from the 1960’s, when apparently men compensated with large oak desks instead of sports cars. At least she’d been able to get rid of his crappy chair and replace it with one that wouldn’t mangle his spinal cord. “I’m a lawyer. A lot of people get angry with me.”

"It’s in his job description,” she quipped.

His dark eyes moved her way, and it took all she had not to fall to the floor in a submissive pose. But she wasn’t going to. Nope. Not for him.

"As I was saying, my line of work tends to bring out the worst in people, but I’ll admit I don’t remember your brother. You said his name was Harvey? Harvey Dixon?”

"We don’t have a file on him, sir,” Laurel said, knowing damn well that the “sir” would get his motor running, and that was why she merely meant it as a politeness. She wasn’t even thinking of capitalizing the word the way she would with Master Ian or Master Liam. If Mitch wanted the relationship professional, then he better get used to a lowercase s.

He frowned at her, his handsome face going all gruff in a way that somehow managed to make him look more masculine. “How do you know? Do you have the files memorized now?”

She could have them memorized if she wanted to, but that would cut into her reading time. “Nope. I checked my tablet. I scanned in all the files and where they’re stored about a month after you hired me. We’re fully automated.”

His brows formed that V he got whenever something confused and disturbed him. “No one told me. I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

He was often like the old guy on his lawn shaking his fist at those young people. For a superman of not even forty, he was very adverse to change. “And that’s why I didn’t tell you.”

She often had to go around her gorgeous grump in order to get anything done. Mitch had a smoking body and the finest legal mind she’d ever met, but he also had a few quirks, and he could be a massive ass when he wanted to be.

"You can’t go around destroying my files.”

"Good god, Mitchell. I didn’t destroy the files. I scanned them in. Please tell me you don’t think that involves the computer eating the files or something.”

"Of course not.” The look in Mitch’s eyes told her he would have a discussion with her after this was over. Which was good since she intended to have a discussion with him, too.

He turned back to their guest. “Why do you believe your brother intends to kill me?”

Patrick Dixon shifted in his chair, his hands nervously moving along the arms. “Well, my first indication was when he told me he was going to spend the rest of his life trying to rip your heart from your chest, eat it and then…well, the rest is all digestion but he used much more crude language.”

"He wants to shit my heart out?” Mitch asked, his eyes rolling. “Like I never heard that one before. Is there a reason he wants me in his bowels?”

"He shouldn’t given how much red meat you eat. It might be harder to pass than he thinks.” She tried to force him to work a salad in every now and then.

Dixon ignored her. “My brother considers himself quite the inventor. Over the years he’s been awarded twenty-two different patents. He’s a brilliant engineer, but he prefers to work for himself, and the patents have never panned out, if you know what I mean.”

Just because you patent something doesn’t mean you’re going to make money from it,” Mitch replied.

"Exactly.” Patrick sighed as though this was something he’d thought about long and hard. “Some of his inventions didn’t have much use or purpose in the real world. We managed to get a few of his ideas to market, but it wasn’t enough for Harvey. He always thought about the ones that got away. A few of his more brilliant ideas were taken by large companies.”

Mitch shook his head. “Was he working for them at the time? Are you trying to say they stole his patents?”

"No. While my brother is very smart, his processes can be a bit convoluted, difficult to understand.”

"Ah,” Mitch said with a nod. “So someone swoops in and refines the idea, changes the process so it’s easier to produce the wanted effect.”

"It’s not fair,” Patrick said, his hands forming fists.,/p>

Mitch shrugged. “A patent applies to a process for bringing about a result. It doesn’t apply to the result itself. Otherwise, we’d have monopolies all over the place on manufacturing. If someone took your brother’s ideas and made them simpler, easier to get to market, then they win the prize. It’s Edison vs. Tesla.”

This was why she’d hung around. Mitch was brilliant and all that law knowledge seemed to have taken up the majority of space in his brain. He didn’t have a whole lot of tact. He obviously couldn’t see that Dixon was on the edge of an emotional outburst.

Laurel leaned forward and patted the man’s arm. “I’m so sorry to hear that. It must have been very frustrating for him.”

Dixon immediately calmed, his eyes sad now but resolute. “It is, Miss Daley. It’s hard to watch someone you care about struggle. I have to admit that my brother isn’t the most stable of people. He’s brilliant but not stable.”

She couldn’t say that about her boss. Yes, he was gruff and he obviously didn’t put any stock in chemistry and wouldn’t know the prefect sub if she bit him in the ass—actually she hadn’t tried that—but Mitchell Bradford was stable. Since the day she’d met him, he’d been the man who walked her to her car every day, even if it was afternoon, even when he wasn’t leaving himself. He was the one who wanted a text to make sure she’d made it home all right. Mitch was the one who flipped out when he realized her car had a warning light that had been blinking away for six weeks. He was also the one who took her car down himself because he didn’t trust mechanics to not take advantage of her.

"None of this explains why I’m his target. Or why he has a target at all,” Mitch said gruffly.

Dixon leaned forward. “You have to understand that Harvey has always had big dreams. He would make a little money and then spend it all on the next invention because he didn’t want to simply be comfortable. He wanted to be rich, famous. He’s had many offers over the years for stable employment but he turned them all down because his wealth was always right around the corner.”

Laurel understood the type. “He was always swinging for the fences because getting on base wasn’t enough, right?”

Dixon nodded. “Exactly. That seemed to work during his twenties, but he got involved with drugs at some point and it went downhill. He became paranoid. He worked less, but was angrier about the failures. Then two years ago he started working on a way to store solar power.”

"The Bentley Industries project.” Laurel immediately pulled up the file. As solar energy became an actual option for individual homes, the issue of storage had become a problem. Engineers had been trying to find a way to store up energy for longer periods of time so the houses with the capability could be more self-reliant rather than having to switch back to the electricity grid. So sunny summer days could be saved to power winter days. Bentley Industries had recently filed for a patent on a system that would allow for solar storage of up to a month and had confidence they could refine the process to go much longer.

Mitchell Bradford was their attorney and stood to gain a percentage of the profits. He’d also been the spokesman for the company when they’d done the talk show rounds.

Yes,” Patrick agreed. “I don’t even think Harvey was close to anything, but he’s decided this was his last shot. He’s back on drugs and he believes that Mitch somehow stole his idea. I tried to go to the police, but they said there was no proof and when they talked to Harvey, he was in one of his lucid stages. He can be very convincing when he’s like that. I’ve been his partner for twenty years and I’ve never seen him so angry.”

"What makes you think this isn’t just talk, Mr. Dixon?” Mitch asked. If it bugged him that someone wanted him dead, he didn’t show it. His gorgeous face was as passive as it was when he talked about the weather.

But once it had been animated and fierce. She couldn’t forget the possessive look that had lit those dark eyes as he’d lowered his lips to hers and devoured her like a starving man.

She shook her head because every time she thought about their one and only kiss, the room seemed to heat up. It had been months, but she could still feel the way his hands had tightened on her body as though he would never let her go.

He had, of course, and now he was quite good at evading her web of seduction. Or maybe she wasn’t any good at the seduction part.

"It’s a feeling,” Patrick was saying. “I know that something is off with him. I truly believe he’s going to make an attempt on your life. You have to be careful. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop him.”

The poor man was shaking. Laurel leaned over and put a hand on his. “It’s all right. We’ll look into it. Thank you so much for telling us about the threat. I can’t imagine what it cost you to come in this afternoon.”

"He’s my brother.” Patrick sniffled slightly and that sent Laurel running for a tissue. Naturally Mitch didn’t have any. He tried to pawn off anyone who looked like they would get even vaguely emotional on her, so she excused herself. She kept a box in her office.

That was when she saw the man in the lobby. A hoodie was pulled down over his face. He stood in the hallway outside their doors. The building housed several businesses. This particular floor was shared by their office, a dentist, and an accounting agency.

He was probably looking for the dentist. He was dressed too casually for business.

grabbed the tissues off Sharon’s desk and was about to turn when the man suddenly shifted toward her.

The hoodie covered his eyes, but she wasn’t really looking at him anymore. Nope. She was standing stock-still at the sight of what was in his hands.

A gun.

She managed to scream right before he pulled the trigger.

Copyright 2015 Lexi Blake