“Uh, Blue. I hate to break it to you, but I think there’s something wrong with you if you find a girl with weapons of destruction adorable.”
“So adorable. Or should I say ‘adorbs’?”
She punched his arm, but inside, she was as giddy as a little schoolgirl.
The boat ride proved uneventful, for which she was grateful. She used the time to get her focus off Blue and what he made her feel and onto the Stars and John. The entire ordeal was almost over. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
Her father was in the spacious living room, cleared of all but a table piled high with weapons, a lounge chair, a few computers, and now a cage. Tiffany was trapped inside. Dirt and tears smeared her cheeks, and her shirt and jeans were ripped and wrinkled. There were angry cuts running the length of both of her arms, and one across her neck. She looked nothing like the elegant woman Evie saw at the victory party.
Tiffany paled when she spotted Blue, stood, and curled her fingers around the bars of her cage. “You’d be wise to leave,” she said, a tremor in her voice.
“You’d be wise to give us the answers we seek,” he snapped, “before I make use of the tools on the table. That happens, and you’ll pray for death. But you won’t get it.” He looked to Evie. “You want to watch me work, princess?”
“Would love to, Mr. Hammer.” He deposited her in a chair at the computers, kissed her, kissed her again, and stalked to Michael, who waited at the table, cleaning a dagger.
“On his way,” Michael replied. “I have Star’s number, if you want to call him.”
He smiled coldly at Tiffany. “Yeah. Let’s get him good and scared about what I’m going to do to her.”
* * *
Blue was so ready for this to be over. He wanted to move into Evie’s officially, or move her into his place. He wanted to take her on a date. Their first. He wanted to ask her to marry him.
Yeah, he realized. He did.
He wanted her to wholly belong to him. To be his family.
He wanted her ensconced in every part of his life. And he wanted to be ensconced in every part of hers, whether she did a little agenting or went back to the hospital as she’d originally planned. He wanted to romance her so hard she offered her heart on a silver freaking platter.
He just plain wanted.
Michael held out a cell phone. “You’ll need this. And you’ll also need to stop staring at my daughter.”
He blinked into focus, only then realizing he’d switched his attention to Evie.
She offered him a knowing—wicked—smile.
He winked at her, then shifted his gaze. Tiffany sobbed quietly.
He hardened his heart and dialed Star’s number.
Two rings in, the male answered with “Well, well. Someone finally remembered he’s at war” in lieu of a greeting.
“You know we have your daughter and you know what we want. Let’s not play games.”
“Mr. Blue,” a low growl crackled. “Where is she?”
“Somewhere you’ll never find her.”
“You don’t want to do this. I will kill your friend and send you the pieces.”
“Despite the money you would lose?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve done more for less.”
Blue’s laugh was devoid of humor. “I could say the same. You hurt John any more than you already have, and I’ll do the same to your little girl. In fact, as soon as we hang up, I’ll take her fingers and make myself a real pretty necklace from the bones. Or maybe I’ll remove her skin the way you removed John’s.”
A hiss of fury.
“So, where does that leave us?” he finished casually.
Silence dominated the line for several seconds. “I suppose you want to trade.”
“And you would trust me to keep up my end.”
“Of course not. I would force you to keep up your end.”
Another hiss. “I want to talk to her first. Proof of life.”
“That’s great, wonderful. I’ll let you. Just as soon as I’ve spoken to John.”
“I thought you’d say that. Sadly, he’s not in the mood to speak right now. However, if you’ll glance at your screen, I’ll show you a video of him.”
Dread filled Blue as he lowered the phone. An electronic notebook was held up, displaying that day’s paper. Then the notebook was removed, and a small concrete room came into view. The walls were gray. There was a bed—a gurney, really—with a huge red lump in the center.
A red lump that was . . . that was . . .
Blue nearly hunched over and vomited. That red lump was clearly John. He was a mass of meat and blood, without a single inch of skin to protect his insides. His mouth was parted in an endless, agonized scream he probably didn’t have the strength to unleash.
The scene vanished, and Blue shoved the phone back to his ear. His hand was shaking. “You’ll pay for that,” he croaked. “I will make sure you pay.”
Evie came up beside him and wrapped her arms around his waist, offering comfort. He was glad. His knees were knocking and his head swimming with a rage his body couldn’t seem to contain. He was on the brink of cracking and he hadn’t even realized it.
“My turn,” Star said stiffly.
Blue kissed Evie’s temple before stalking to Tiffany’s cage. He held out the phone and pressed Speaker. “Say hello.”
“Are you all right, darling?” Star asked.
Tears beaded in her lashes. Gaze locked on Blue, she shook her head no, her lips smashed together as if she didn’t want to speak.
“Answer him out loud,” Blue snarled.
A heavy pause as the tears rolled down her cheeks. “Y-yes, Daddy. I’m all right.”
“Good.” The tenor of Star’s voice had changed. From concerned to commanding. “Then do what I told you to do. My men are already in place.”
Blue’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“I told you that you’d regret this.” Tiffany closed her eyes, tremors rocking her entire body. She breathed in and out, as if trying to calm herself, before bending down and removing one of her shoes. She fit her fingers into grooves at the sides before tossing it in the center of the living room. That done, she grabbed a small silver hook resting at the toe of the other shoe.
Trying not to panic, Blue shook the bars. “What did he mean?”
“My brother found the isotope tracker Miss Black meant to use on him, and figured you’d used one on me,” she said softly. “A little hacking proved him right. My father has been tracking me, too. He knows where I am. He’s known all along. His men are waiting outside the perimeter. And now it’s too late. I have to do what he told me. I have to punish you for embarrassing him. Have to show his clients he can deliver whatever he promises. If not, I’ll be punished. And if not me, then Tyson. I don’t want either of us to be punished. I’m sorry.”