The idea of meeting Aiden again had her stomach clenching. She didn’t know if she should be afraid of the man or not. Those eyes, his body, that car—it was the kind of bad-boy siren’s call that turned off her better judgment. Which was exactly why she was here when the shop was closed and everyone was gone. She was not looking to run into Aiden, she just wanted to learn a little more about him. She’d passed it at least a hundred times on her way to derby practice.
She swung her leg off her Honda Rebel and frowned. The lights were off, there was a chain corralling the cars out front, the bay doors were shut, and yet the low gate wasn’t barring entry to the parking lot.
Maybe someone had forgotten to close it? That was stupid. Someone could cut the chains, bust some windows, and be gone with all those pretty cars. But, that wasn’t her problem. She just wanted to look around. If this man was going to follow her, confront her while she was doing a fund-raiser, well, she wanted to know more about him. The Internet hadn’t told her anything, except he was a co-owner of the garage and involved in a wreck some years ago. That was it. No one could have that little of an online footprint. These days people had a Facebook profile for their dog and a Twitter account for their cat. So who was Aiden?
The hours on the front window said they were open until seven, and it was edging past eight. The neon signs in the windows of the businesses up and down the street lit up the night and somewhere nearby a band played a salsa tune. She cupped her hands around her face and peered into the darkened interior. She could make out
a counter, a rack of shirts, and some other displays that meant nothing to her—but no people.
What kind of a business were they running here? Henchmen “R” Us? What would make a businessman turn hired muscle? She’d glimpsed enough of Dustin’s so-called work to know the type, and Aiden was not the
type to be hired out by anyone. He was something else entirely.
“Can I help you?” a voice said behind her. Madison spun around. What she wouldn’t give for her baseball bat right now! She had pepper spray attached to her keys, but for some reason the bat made her feel safer. The way Aiden stared at her, assessing and weighing her presence, she could have been one of his cars. Well, if he wanted a look under her hood it wasn’t happening.
He’d showered. She could smell the scent of his soap. He’d changed into a black button-down shirt with LUCKY 13 stitched onto the shoulders in white thread, the sleeves cuffed around his biceps.
“Shit, you scared me.” Madison took one step back and her calf hit the outcrop of rock below the window.
Aiden was maybe two feet away from her. Where the hell had he come from?
One brow arched and he tilted his head to the side. His gaze traversed her body without a care if she noticed or not. Her nipples tightened and she balled her hands into fists. No, she would not have a “thing” for the man who wanted to manipulate her. She was going to date nice, rule-following types from now on.
“What are you doing here, Madison?” The way he rumbled her name, deep and low in his chest, revved something inside of her. She licked her lips. This was about being free from Dustin and all the crap he slung her way. For better or worse, Aiden was linked with her ex.
“I, uh, thought we should talk more.” Maybe she could get him to talk his way into the truth. “You surprised me earlier. I didn’t know what to say or think.”
The muscles in his jaw jumped. Did he believe her? She didn’t believe herself.
“Look, I just want Dustin to go away, so whatever it takes to make that happen, I want to do it.” Preferably her ex-husband would end up handcuffed and in jail, but she doubted that. He’d acquired a new boss since they separated.
“What changed your mind? You didn’t seem that interested earlier.”
She pushed her shoulders back. “I’m not saying I’m interested. I’m willing to hear you out. It’s not like we had a whole lot of time to talk this afternoon. Like, how exactly did you come to work for Dustin?” Anyone who worked for her ex-husband wasn’t a person she wanted in her life, that was for sure.
You listening down there?
Now if she could just get her libido to fall in line.
“We don’t talk about that here,” Aiden replied.
“Then where do we talk about it?”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve got a mouth on you.”
She stared at him, but couldn’t figure him out. What did he want?
He glanced over his shoulder, but there wasn’t another soul on the lot or the street in that moment, and she’d given her cop shadow the slip.
“Why the hell do you care?” Madison had always had her daddy’s knack with language. It was one of the only things the old sailor had left her with before he split.
“Never said I did.”
They were talking in circles. She wasn’t getting anywhere with him.
“Got plans?” he asked.
“Uh . . .” She should have been at roller derby practice half an hour ago, but this was more important.
He took a step toward her, invading her space even more. He reached out his hand and plucked a leaf from her hair, holding it out so she could see it before tossing it on the ground. “Are you doing anything right now besides holding me up?”
She licked her lips and blinked at him. “Not right now.”
Aiden might be a crook and a criminal—which went against everything she’d promised herself she’d stay away from—but she needed Dustin out of her life so she could really move on.
“I’m curious about something.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know.” Right. She needed to not reply in movie quotes.
“Wouldn’t it be a lot safer for you to give the drive back to Dustin?”
“Yes. Yes it would be.”
“So you have it.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You have it. So why haven’t you given it to him?” He crossed his arms, which just made his biceps bulge.
Madison sighed. “It’s complicated.”
“I’m a smart guy.”
She studied him for a moment. Did she trust him? Could she? Madison didn’t know how much longer she could hold out. “I have it, but the cops and Dustin want it. No matter who I give it to, someone will want me dead or behind bars. I don’t like either of those options. I’m not stupid, but that’s what people like to believe.
Appearances work in my favor.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean, when people see a tattooed girl like me, they make assumptions. I just let them believe whatever they want to.”
“Where is the drive?”
She bit her lip. Could she trust him? Her gut said yes, but then again her gut had also said yes to marrying Dustin—the biggest fuck-up of her life.
“Somewhere,” she replied.
Aiden sighed. “You aren’t going to tell me?”
“I can’t. I hid it from myself.”
“Can you get it back?”
“Maybe. If I think it’s the smart thing to do.”
“If you aren’t going to trust me, why are you here?” He spread his arms a little and glanced around at his domain.
“Because . . . because I’m between a rock and a hard place. I want Dustin out of my life, but he’s convinced
I’m trying to steal from him. Then there’s the cops who have me over a barrel. I have to sneak out of my own house just to get a little privacy. And now there’s you. You say you don’t want to help Dustin.” She shrugged.
“So maybe you’ll help me.”
“So maybe you’ll help me.”
She tipped her chin up, refusing to be ashamed of her past. Dustin’s sins were not hers. When she’d left Dustin, she’d promised herself she’d follow the letter of the law. All the rules. So far, all it had gotten her was a burned car, all her cash stolen, a collection of bruises, and a charge for assault for protecting herself after her ex sent thugs after her.
The cops wanted her to spill the beans on Dustin, except there wasn’t anything to spill. Their tactics of refusing help were forcing her into this. Into making a deal with someone who might be as much of a crook as Dustin. But did she have any choice? No.