Submission is Not Enough, Masters and Mercenaries Book 12, Now Available!

A fallen hero reborn

Theo Taggart lost everything the night he died. His family, his beautiful Erin, and worst of all, he lost himself. A twisted doctor brought him back from the brink of death, but reprogrammed his identity to serve her will. Rescued by his brothers, he must fight to reclaim the man he was and the life, and love, that were stolen from him.

A love worth fighting for

Erin Argent thought she'd lost Theo forever. When he walked back into her life, it was nothing short of a miracle. Months of torture and conditioning at the hands of Dr. Hope McDonald have done damage to Theo that may never be mended. He has no memory of her or the life they shared. Breaking through to him, and helping him rediscover all he lost, will be the toughest mission she's ever faced. Luckily for Theo, Erin loves a good fight.

Their reunion under siege

Unfortunately, Hope is far from done with Theo Taggart. Obsessed with her prize experiment, she will do anything to get him back. If the only way to finally break him of his past life is to kill Erin and his son, then she's only too happy to oblige…


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Reviews

I’m trying to find the words to do this book justice, but my God it’s hard! SUBMISSION IS NOT ENOUGH by Lexi Blake was POWERFUL, PASSIONATE, and POIGNANT! Believe me, there are a million other words for it, but those three P’s sealed the deal for me. Lexi has always been, and will continue to be one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. She gets me invested in her characters, and they become a family to me. I just know it was a tough journey, but Ms. Blake did Theo and Erin’s HEA justice. ~ Shayna, Shayna Renee's Spicy Reads ShaynaReneeSpicyReads.com

Lexi Blake does it again! Submission Is Not Enough does not disappoint. ~ Melissa, Smokin Hot Book Reads, SmokinHotReadsBookBlog.com

Submission Is Not Enough is packed with it all. Put it to the top of your TBR immediately. ~ Lisa Marie, Words We Love By, WordsWeLoveBy.com

Wow! Just wow! Lexi Blake has done it again! Submission Is Not Enough is, in my opinion, the best book in an already outstanding series. This is Theo and Erin's story - the one we've all been waiting for. And boy oh boy was it worth the wait! I was blown away by the storyline and the way Lexi Blake skilfully blended the heart wrenching, emotional scenes with the passionate, sinfully hot moments. There was of course also some laugh out loud moments provided by the witty banter we've come to expect from the MacKay-Taggart boys. ~ JJ's Kinky Books, JJsKinkyBooks.blogspot

What a book. Never have I ever had a book that left my heart completely crippled but Submission is not Enough. You have no idea how totally affected I was when I was reading this book. You know when you read a book and it completely moves you to the core and leaves your heart bleeding on the floor, well, Submission is not Enough certainly did that to me. My heart was obliterated from the first page to the last. Lexi Blake definitely outdid herself with this book. ~ The Romantic Angel Blog, JJsKinkyBooks.blogspot

Erin Argent has my heart and so does Lexi Blake. As my much anticipated book from Lexi Blake, I couldn’t wait for Submission Is Not Enough. Seriously, this book was a culmination of raw emotions, love, and brutal honesty. There are not enough words to describe how powerful and poignant this love story was. ~ Four Chicks Flipping Pages, FourChicksFlippingPages.weebly

Submission Is Not Enough is more than a book….it is a masterpiece, one that will stand the test of time and leave you feeling breathless and complete every time you remember the experience of reading it. ~ Nice Ladies Naughty Books, NiceLadiesNaughtyBooks.com

Lexi Blake truly delivers in this latest book of the Masters & Mercenaries series. Heart Wrenching. Explosive. Action Packed. Sexy. Submission Is Not Enough delivers all the Lexi Blake action, fast paced writing, kink, love and suspense that readers have come to love. ~ Red Hot Romance, RedHotRomanceReviews.wordpress.com

Lexi Blake is one of my go-to authors when it comes to sexy romantic suspense, but with this book she proved that she can wring emotion from her readers like no other. It’s so much more than just romance. Twelve books into the series and I’m still as invested as ever if not more so with these characters and find myself eagerly anticipating the next book. It’s so far beyond just sexy BDSM romance and high octane action. Starting one of these books is like getting reacquainted with a gang of friends. I fall hard for each of them every single time and with the snippet of the next book I’m practically salivating for Nick already. If you’re hoping this book lives up to all your expectations, it does. It goes beyond it. It blows all the expectations away. I loved every page! ~ Lana, Dirty Girl Romance, DirtyGirlRomance.com

This book has it all, thrills, BDSM, suspense, and passion that ignited a five-alarm fire. Definitely one of the best book in the entire series and I am waiting with baited breath to see what else Lexi has in store for this cast of characters. There is never a dull moment, and it only keeps getting better. ~ Delightfully Dirty Reads, DelightfullyDirtyReads.com

This is one of those books that’s hard to read because the emotions are so strong, but it will stay with you forever. It is totally a five star read by a fabulous author.~ Shadow, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews GuiltyPleasuresBookReviews.com

Submission is Not Enough is a romantic suspense read that is full of passion, heartache, and a love like no other, and I recommend it to everyone!! ~ Bridget's Book BungalowBridgetsBookBungalow.wordpress.com

Submission is Not Enough is a sexy, action-packed, thrilling story. I cannot wait to get my hands on Lexi Blake next book, she's truly an amazing writer . ~ JoJo The BookaholicJoJoTheBookaholic.com


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Dallas, TX

Eighteen months later

He raised his weapon, putting the young lady’s forehead securely in his sights. It wasn’t something he enjoyed doing, but he understood the need. Cash was required and it wasn’t like Mother could get a job. Her work was far too important and it was up to him to ensure their survival. For him and his brothers.

So he would kill the girl if he had to. He told himself that over and over again. He hadn’t been able to force himself to do it before. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to now.

“Place the money in the bag,” he said in Spanish.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she rushed to do his will. His arm was steady, but in that moment she changed. Somehow she morphed right before his eyes, her hair lightening to a natural red and her skin turning ivory with the sweetest dusting of freckles.

“You don’t want to do this, Theo,” she said. This girl wasn’t crying. She was a woman and not a girl at all. She wasn’t afraid of him. Her clear green eyes were steady on him.

He didn’t want to kill her. Oh, no. He wanted something entirely different from her.

Pain flared through him, threatening to split his skull. His name was Tomas and he didn’t know the woman in front of him. He didn’t fucking know her so why did she constantly show up in his dreams? Why did she appear like a ghost he couldn’t quite rid himself of and screw everything up? She couldn’t be here. Not now.

If he fucked up they would all pay. They would pay in pain that only seemed never ending.

“Theo, come back to me. Come home, baby.”

Every word sent another spike through his skull. Come home? He was home. He’d never had another home. The blood was starting to pound through him. He needed that money. Mother made it clear. When her orders weren’t followed he lost more. He lost days. Nights. He started over again.

He lost those brief moments when he thought he remembered other brothers.

“Theo? Theo, are you with us?”

The voice was deeper, but familiar. The redhead was speaking with a masculine voice, but it didn’t matter. Just her face made his head hurt. What the fuck was her name? Pain. Her name was pain and trying wouldn’t help anyone.

“Hey, princess? You not getting enough sleep?”

“He’s fine. Leave him alone.”

Why was he always stuck between two worlds? Between the one where he knew his place and found some form of peace and this one, where odd voices called to him.

There was only one way. Mother had told him what to do. Stop the voices. Give in. Stay in his place. Peace was there.

He lifted the gun and fired directly into the beautiful redhead’s face.



Theo came awake with a shudder.

God, when would it end? When would he stop killing the woman he was supposed to love?

“Well, Princess Theo? You want me to grab you a blankie? I think they have some in the nursery.”

He forced himself to sit up properly. The room was dark and the slightest bit cold. He was sitting in a chair and surrounded by people who were around some kind of table.

McKay-Taggart. He was at McKay-Taggart and he was in the conference room and he was Theo Taggart.

A hand covered his, soft skin making his body come alive. “Are you all right, babe?”

He had the sudden instinct to turn his hand over, offering up his palm so he could tangle their fingers together. So he could hold on to her like a lifeline. Erin. Pretty Erin, who apparently lived in his house and…god, she’d had his child and he couldn’t remember her past the fact that he often murdered her in his dreams so the pain would stop.

He moved his hand away, turning back to the man who was his oldest brother. Ian.

Sometimes he wished they all wore nametags.

“Sorry. I’m fine. I drifted off.” He sat up and looked around the table. It was something he’d done every single day for the last six weeks. Since he’d been rescued from Mother…Hope McDonald’s experiments, he’d had to retrain his brain in a number of ways and one was to constantly remind himself of where he was and who was around him.

Adam Miles. Computer junkie. He was sitting in front of his laptop, running the visual portion of this meeting.

Nick Markovic. He was Russian, though he was based in London. He’d come to the company after he left Russia’s foreign intelligence and that was also known as SVR. So many initials to remember when it came to the agencies around the globe. Nick looked like he always wanted to murder someone, and that someone might be Theo. He got the feeling the Russian didn’t like him.

Liam O’Donnell. Irishman. Everyone here seemed to look up to the man.

Charlotte Taggart. She could be hard to look at. It was the red hair. It was close to hers. Charlotte was married to Ian and she was pregnant with their baby. Their third, he thought. He wasn’t good around kids.

Case Taggart. Brother. Twin. He used to look a lot like Case. He was easy to remember most of the time. He lived in Case’s apartment. Not his own home. He hadn’t even walked into it. He hadn’t met his own son. He wasn’t ready. Not even close.

He didn’t look her way. He tried not to because when he looked at her he remembered how he often made the choice to kill her.

Erin. Thinking the name didn’t hurt so much anymore. Erin Argent.

“Is he doing that thing again?” Ian stood at the head of the table. The most sarcastic of his brothers. All around asshole and never-ending pain in Theo’s butt. Ian wouldn’t back off. Even Case left him alone most of the time. Not Ian. Ian poked and prodded and made him want to explode.

“You know what Kai said.” Charlotte shot Ian a look that could freeze fire. Ian called his wife Charlie, but it seemed like everyone else used her full name.

Ian’s eyes narrowed. “Kai’s taking too long, but we can discuss that later.” He turned his gaze back to Theo. “You manage to get through everyone? Know all our names?”

“Leave him alone, Ian, or we’re going to have a long talk you won’t like.” Erin didn’t seem to be intimidated by big brother.

He wanted to get on with the meeting so he could go back to Case’s place and play video games with Robert. He felt better around Robert, easier. They didn’t have to talk about what happened. They could simply be. “I’m good, boss. We were talking about Hutch. What have we found?”

“Nick, if you don’t mind.” Ian nodded the Russian’s way.

Nick Markovic sat back, looking at the screen. It showed a map that apparently tracked the movements of a man named Greg Hutchins. Hutch. Theo did remember him, although according to Case they had a longer history. Hutch had been in the base with him. It’s what they called home. Base. At the base they each had their own cells. Hutch had been across from him at first, but then Mother moved him because Hutch irritated him and when he got irritated he tried to get out.

Sometimes he could see the man sitting in front of a computer, a smile on his face and something red dangling between his lips.

Red Vine. Candy. Hutch used to like candy. Mother cured him of that.

He let the image float through his brain, not trying to catch it. That was what Kai said he was doing wrong. The pain came when he tried to force himself to remember. Memories would come and go as they pleased and Theo should ride the wave, not attempt to dominate it.

A sudden vision slammed into him.

Erin Argent on her knees, her thighs spread wide and not a stitch of clothes covering her glorious body. She looked up at him, her lips curling slightly. You wanted something from me, Master?

The memory slipped away, but only from his brain. His dick was suddenly hard and aching. The damn thing hadn’t worked the entire time he’d been with Moth…McDonald, and now it perked up like a puppy eager to play every time Erin walked in a room.

He wanted her and he didn’t trust himself to have her.

“I tracked Hutchins from the Turkish border where he entered Europe under press credentials,” Nick said. “Apparently he posed as a photographer working on a story about the immigrant crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border.”

“It was one of our covers.” Theo sat up a bit straighter. This he did remember. It made him feel like he was worth something. Too often he sat in a chair with nothing at all to add. “After we made the deal with the doctor in Africa, McDonald wanted to ensure we had a route out if we needed it. She tried to have more than one contingency plan at all times. If we headed into Europe, we would use the press credentials. If we needed to go to Asia, we would pose as a small medical team connected to Doctors Without Borders. She never left us without choices.”

Nick’s icy eyes pinned him. “Of course not. You were her prized pupil.”

“Experiment.” Erin stared right back at the Russian. “He wasn’t a pupil, Nick. He was an experiment in torture. Do you have a problem with this assignment?”

Nick shook his head, sitting back in his seat. “Not at all. Finding Mr. Hutchins is extremely important. Especially when I believe finding him might lead to finding Dr. McDonald. That is the goal, is it not? That’s what everyone wants? You do know we’re not the only ones looking for her. I had to deal with several agencies who are also interested in Dr. McDonald. I’ve managed to keep Mr. Hutchins off their radar so far, but I can’t imagine it will last. He’s been quite aggressive.”

“Our CIA contacts assure me they’re not interested in Hutch,” Ian said. “You read the debrief from Ezra Fain? Excuse me. He’s one of those assholes with fifty-two different names. I believe he’s going by both Beckett Kent and Mr. White as well these days. You know it makes me miss Ten. Well, when he lets me miss him. Asshole’s buying a place here and wants to like socialize and shit. What’s up with that?”

“It’s called growing and maturing, and he and Faith want to set down some roots,” Charlotte shot back. “He’s coming home to his family.”

“Freaking family is too big already,” Ian said with a shake of his head. “And sometimes the puppies get off their leashes. So we tracked him crossing the border. Do we have any idea where Hutch is now? Have we checked the candy shops?”

“I found him on the Deep Web,” Adam said.

“Deep Web?” He knew about the Internet, though he hadn’t been trained on computers the way Hutch had been. It was precisely why they’d stolen Hutch. Mother had needed his skills.

Liam turned to him. “You don’t remember? I don’t understand how it works. You remember how to drive a car but not something like the Deep Web?”

He could brush his teeth, but he couldn’t remember that he hated certain brands of toothpaste. He’d known instinctively how to get to the McKay-Taggart building from his brother’s apartment. He’d gotten behind the wheel and found himself pulling into the lot, likely because he hadn’t been thinking about it at all. He’d been listening to the radio.

But he couldn’t remember what the house he’d bought for he and Erin looked like.

He couldn’t remember how she liked to be kissed or what it felt like to sleep beside her.

“He remembers everything,” Case insisted. “It’s all under a heavy veil right now. Kai assures us one day Theo’s going to get his memory back. For now we have to remind him.”

Kai Ferguson. His therapist. The man he spent most of his time with and who was certain he could pierce that veil over his brain. Theo wasn’t at all certain.

“The Deep Web is the part of the web we can’t see on the surface,” Adam explained. “Think of the web as an ocean. Most of us live on the surface. That’s where you can buy socks and download movies and order pizza online.”

He liked pizza. A solid week of eating nothing but pizza had taught him that he liked pepperoni and sausage and that Canadian bacon was weird and gross and vegetables had no place on a pie. “All right. So the Dark Web is what’s underneath and Hutch is there?”

“Yes. You can’t reach the Dark Web through conventional browsers. Google can only find about four percent of what’s actually out there,” Adam explained. “To find the rest you have to know where to look. I found Hutch on a site for black hat hackers. I tried to get close, but he made me and I lost him. He’ll have changed his profile and servers. I’ll keep trying.”

“Physically I believe he’s somewhere in Germany,” Nick said. “He entered the EU on the press passport. Once there he has freedom of movement, but I suspect he wanted technology and top-notch access to the Internet. Germany is perfect.”

“Lots of places in Europe have good Internet,” Erin pointed out.

Nick shook his head. “Ah, but Greg Hutchins took several years of German while he was in school and scored high on his CIA test for the language. His father was in the Air Force and he spent seven years of his childhood outside Ramstein. He’ll go where he’ll feel comfortable.”

“He would feel comfortable in his own freaking home.” Ian huffed, a deeply annoyed sound. “Although after I find him and drag him back he’ll find his home is now a freaking cell until I deprogram the little fucker.”

Charlotte got to her feet and moved in behind him, putting her arms around him and hugging her body to his. The comfort he took from her was obvious in the way he leaned back and how his hand moved over hers, bringing it up to cover his chest. “We’ll find him.”

Ian nodded. “That’s what Nick’s here for.”

“I’m trying,” Adam said quietly.

Nick shook his head. “You’re too similar to him. I don’t think we’ll find him through a computer, though I will need your help. I think he’s trying to set himself up to make some cash.”

“You think he’s trying to take over where Chelsea left off.” Erin was stiff beside him as though she’d seen the intimacy between Ian and Charlotte and realized how different it was between them.

They’d had a baby, but she was a complete stranger to him.

“Chelsea Weston. She was the Broker at one point in time.” He sat up at night reading the files on the people he should know. His brothers had given him file after file filled with information he’d known before. Chelsea was Charlotte’s sister and married to Simon Weston, another operative at the company. For years she’d been a commanding online presence, brokering information she found for money and power. Now she worked for the CIA. “You think Hutch is setting himself up as an information broker? Why would he do that?”

“Power. Money. Insulation.” Case counted out the reasons. “He knows what it did for Chelsea and Charlotte, and he has some connections I don’t think he ever really let go of. Hutch was a black hat when Ten found him. He was into some pretty dark stuff. I think he’s going back to what he knows. Nick, how are you going to catch him?”

Nick picked up the coffee mug in front of him. “First I need Adam to use his facial recognition software. I’ve got the dates I believe he would have traveled on. I’ve talked to some friends at Interpol and they’re willing to get me CCTV footage from the Hauptbahnhofs. We’ll start with the major cities. Munich first. It’s the southernmost. I’ll work my way north. From there I’ll use my contacts and find out what name he’s using. I’ll find him. Don’t doubt it.”

“And then?” Liam asked.

“Then we have a decision to make,” Nick replied. “Do you want me to bring him home or should I watch him? He’s smart and resourceful and he’s extremely angry. I think he could find her before anyone else.”

“We bring him home,” Erin said resolutely.

But Theo already knew what the others were thinking. “If Hutch is looking for her, should we sit back and watch and wait? He could lead us to her.”

“I’ll find her.” Adam slammed down the top of the laptop. “We don’t need Hutch. Chelsea and I are on it. Bring him home. That’s the only choice.”

But it wasn’t. Theo could see that clearly. Maybe it was because he couldn’t remember actually giving a shit about anything, but he could see plainly that the best plan of action was to wait and watch Hutch. If he had connections in the black hat world, he might be their best bet to find Hope McDonald. It made sense to use whatever assets they had to assess, find, and eradicate the target.

It wasn’t like Hutch wanted to come home. If he did he would be here right now.

Would he have run if he’d had the chance? Theo had been surrounded by his brothers and Kai for days. He’d been locked in a room when they couldn’t be with him. He hadn’t been allowed to be alone, hadn’t been allowed the chance to run.

Was he still thinking about it? Was he thinking about how peaceful his life could be if he simply started over again? It wasn’t like he remembered any of these people and yet they looked at him with expectation in their eyes.

Erin looked at him and he could see how much he disappointed her. Would he disappoint the boy, too? Would it be better to walk away and let her find a better man to raise their child with?

Ian slammed a hand on the table, his decision obviously made. “Find him, Nick. Do whatever you have to. Do we have anything on McDonald?”

“Her last known location was Malaysia,” Liam stated, his Irish accent lilting. “She’s been using a shell corporation that was connected to her father’s old accounts to clean the money they stole. From what I can tell she’s got a couple million in capital, but that won’t last long the way she likes to run through it. There is something that’s worrying me.”

Charlotte sat back down, and Ian’s gaze sharpened on Liam. “What is it?”

From what he could tell, everyone at McKay-Taggart listened to Liam O’Donnell’s instincts. Even now they were all leaning in, waiting for whatever the Irishman was going to say. Wouldn’t it be nice to be so trusted?

“She had a secondary site in Malaysia. One as complex and well-staffed as the place in Argentina. Theo and his friends weren’t the first experiments, from what I can tell,” Liam explained.

That was news to Theo. A chill went up his spine. He’d only ever known Robert and Victor. His brothers. Victor was dead. He’d been killed in the fight that had rescued Theo and Robert. There had only been the three of them. That was the extent of his family.

Not his family. Of the experiments.

“Why would you think she had other men?” He asked the question, his whole body tensing at the idea.

You’re special, Tomas. You’re my greatest work.

He shivered and told himself it was because it was cold.

“The men on the ground found evidence of several inhabitants other than the doc and her ground staff. There were seven cells in the compound, much like the ones Theo described. They all appeared to have been used. We found some records and I think she’d kept up that base for a good while. You’ll find it all in Ten’s report. He and Ezra led the team into the compound.” Liam turned his gaze to Theo. “Would Dr. McDonald leave for periods of time?”

“If she did, he wouldn’t remember,” Ian shot back.

But he did remember a little. “She would leave us with Tony for training. We would still take our meds, but we got a break from the therapy. It was hard to tell days and nights. We wouldn’t go outside often unless we were casing a site. We had sleep periods. She would leave for a few. Maybe five or six. That was usually when we would run a job.”

When he would shove a gun in a girl’s face and demand money. When he became the monster he used to hunt.

He wasn’t sure exactly how many times he’d robbed banks or individuals. He got images in weird flashes at times and sometimes he dreamed and he knew he was reliving some of the things he’d done. Like he knew the girl in the dream who’d become Erin had been real and she’d been alive when he’d left her. One of the things he could clearly remember was his feeling of elation as he and Robert and Victor had raced out of that bank with their biggest haul ever. Adrenaline had rushed through his system and he’d felt free for a moment. He’d felt powerful.

It was awesome that the only pieces of himself he could remember was what a complete shitbag he was.

Nick was staring at him.

“You have something to say to me?” He was sick of not being in on the joke. The Russian obviously hated him and he had zero idea why.

“I have nothing to say to you.” His accent had thickened, eyes dark with distaste. “As far as I am concerned, you’re not here at all.”

The rage that seemed to always be simmering below the surface bubbled over. Yeah, that felt good. He liked that. It was better than feeling hollow. He burst out of his seat and was practically on top of the asshole. “You want to see how real I am? I can show you.”

He wanted a fight. He wanted to punch that asshole right in the fucking face. For a second, the Russian’s countenance dissolved and he could see Tony there. Tony. He’d been the one to break bones and burn flesh. The left side of his face was fucked up because of Tony. Tony liked to call himself the dog trainer.

He could see himself doing it. He would smash his fist through Tony’s face. He could see the red of the blood and hear the way the bones would crunch. When he did that, he would be free.

He felt his whole body hauled back, feet scrambling to find purchase.

“He got strong while he was gone,” Ian was saying as he gripped Theo’s waist and forced him back over the table.

When had he gone over the table? His head ached and all he could remember was that he’d been about to kill Tony.

Except Tony was dead. He’d died weeks ago.

He started to turn, to try to explain why he’d freaked out on Nick, who had to have been scared out of his mind that a raging lunatic had been coming his way.

The Russian hadn’t moved. He sat back watching the scene play out as though none of it mattered to him. He frowned, but it wasn’t a frightened thing. If Theo had to guess, he would say the Russian was almost disappointed.

“Relax, brother. I don’t want to have to sedate you.” Ian kept a tight grip.

“You should do as he says.” Case was standing over him as though waiting for him to flip his shit again. “Big brother has a plan in place. We’ve got tranquilizer guns stashed around the office just in case.”

“I like to call it Operation Sleepytime.” Ian forced him to his seat, but Theo was already coming down.

“I call it Operation You’re An Asshole,” Adam replied.

Ian grinned down at him. “I might have tested it out on Adam.”

“That shit hurts, you know.” Adam huffed as he started to pack up his laptop. “I take it our meeting is over. I’ll get on the facial recognition Nick asked for. Unless we’re about to kill Nick. Are we about to kill Nick?”

“I’m thinking about it.” Erin eyed the Russian.

Why was that woman so hot when she was mean? She seriously looked like she was ready to take the man out even though he outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds of pure muscle. She was also willing to kill him despite the fact that Theo had been the one to attack.

What the hell had he done that someone that beautiful was so loyal to him? Had she loved him because he’d been handsome? He’d seen pictures of himself.

He wasn’t handsome anymore. He wasn’t whole anymore.

“Ease off, Argent. You know this is hard on him, too.” Ian had backed off, but not by much.

“I can make it easy and send him back to London,” Erin replied.

“You know he’s the best tracker we’ve got right now and he’s got skin in this game.” Ian seemed to realize the crisis had passed and moved back to his own seat at the head of the table. He shoved a weary hand over his head. “How would you feel if I told you to sit this one out? Because I want to, Erin. I want to order you to concentrate on your personal life for once and let cooler heads deal with McDonald. How do you feel about that?”

Erin chuckled, but there was no humor in the sound. “Personal life? You think I have one of those, Tag? I’m a single mom. I have no life at all. I have a man who can’t look at me without his head hurting and a bunch of dates with a shrink. So no, I’m not leaving this case. The only joy I have in life is the fact that I’m going to find that bitch and make her pay.”

“Yes,” Nick said, his voice silky and deep. “You see, we do have much in common, Erin. We should work together, not be fighting. We worked beautifully together once. Do you remember how we took down the senator? Two shots in perfect synch. That was pure pleasure.”

Now he wanted to close his hands around the Russian’s throat for a different reason. He wasn’t stupid. That voice the asshole was using wasn’t a friendly tone. Pleasure. Fucking pleasure?

Before he knew what he was doing, Case was shoving him back into his seat with a growl. “Do you need a time-out?”

Because he was a fucking child.

The Russian stood up, smoothing down his perfectly tailored suit. “There you go, sweetheart. You say he can’t look at you, but the moment another man does, he goes crazy. I would say that is hope. He might not remember much, but he knows what belongs to him. That’s as primal a memory as a man can have. As for taking me off the case, if you try I will simply work on my own and then you will not have my intelligence. I’ll find her and kill her myself. Should I send you a postcard when I’m done?”

Charlotte moved toward the doors. “Not at all, Nick. Why don’t we find you an office for while you’re here?”

“That would be nice. I have much work to do and I need to call back to London,” Nick said as they walked out of the conference room.

“Are you okay?” Erin asked. “You have to ignore him. He’s an asshole. He was born in Russia so it comes naturally.”

From what he could tell, Erin thought everyone was an asshole. She was surly and at times unfeminine. So why did he feel something every time she walked into a room? Oh, sure that weird feeling was followed by a nasty kick to his brain pan thanks to the doc’s torture therapy, but there was always an instant where he felt something akin to joy.

“I’m fine.” He couldn’t forget that he tended to go blind with rage. He’d proven it twice in a five-minute time span. He took a deep breath, trying to banish the anger. He could hurt her, had hurt her a hundred times in his dreams. Hurt her. Hurt the kid. He didn’t turn her way.

She sighed, a deeply frustrated sound. “Of course. Well, I guess I’ll see you at Kai’s this afternoon. We have a session. Unless you don’t even want to see me there anymore.”

He didn’t. Not really. He wanted to pretend she didn’t exist. “I’ll be there.”

Because Case would force him. Because he saw the disappointment in everyone’s eyes when he came up with excuses about why he couldn’t go to couples therapy. He didn’t even know he was part of a fucking couple, damn it.

He wished she’d just been a girl in a bar. He wanted to go back to that second when he’d seen her and she’d smiled and he’d thought one good thing had happened to him. He could take her hand and buy her a beer and laugh a little. And then he could take her to bed.

If he remembered how to have sex. His dick seemed to, but only when she was in the room. Or in his head. Which was always.

“Come on, then, darlin’,” Liam said in his smooth Irish accent. “Let’s get the boys and meet Avery in the park. She’s got a nice picnic for us. It’ll be good to get outside for a bit.”

He didn’t like the way the Irishman put a hand on Erin’s elbow, hated how proprietary he was with her. Case put a hand out as though giving him the signal to stay still. To sit.

He was always someone’s dog.

The door closed and he was alone with his brothers.

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