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Bound to the Bounty Hunter
By Hayson Manning, Lewis Pollak
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Hayson Manning
All rights reserved.
"Don't do it, Nick. I swear I will kill you if you do."
Sophie Callaghan silently begged Nicholas Newman not to walk away from the love of his life, again.
A salt and vinegar chip wavered halfway between Sophie's mouth and the Pringles can that lay on her lap.
After a long lingering look, Nick closed the door with a soft click.
Wistfulness settled on her shoulders like soft snow.
The notes of "Nadia's Theme" and the closing credits of The Young and the Restless sealed the chip's fate, which was followed by the rest of the contents of the tube.
She searched for any last crumbs. "Imagine living like a Newman or an Abbot, Pongo. No overdue bills, doing laundry, or dining on two-minute noodles in Genoa City. How good would that be?"
Pongo, who was sprawled on his back, stubby legs in the air, opened one eye then went back to sleep.
I'm having way too may conversations with my dog.
Sophie sighed and collapsed back onto her awesome yellow Goodwill couch. She eyed the stack of bills on the counter and hugged Pongo's warm, squishy body.
"One day we'll get you a Mrs. Pongo and adopt Pongettes from the shelter and have a little family. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Pongo, who looked like he was made from different dog parts stuck together, wagged his stumpy tail and answered in his own unique style. She swooped sideways in a practiced move as Pongo's contribution to global warming hit the room in a string of ripped popping sounds.
"Whoa, that was ripe even for you." She fanned the air. "The sooner I can get you back on your insanely expensive, indoor-outdoor, salt-reduced, perfect-coat, fart-reducing dog biscuits, the better."
After she leaned down and dropped a kiss on his forehead, Sophie stood and retrieved the empty tube of chips and the bowl of cornflakes she'd eaten for dinner from the messy coffee table. Two flakes clung to the side of the bowl like prisoners scaling the walls.
A few more dinners like this and I'll have to down an orange so I don't get scurvy.
She eyed the empty fruit bowl.
Yeah, like I can afford fruit.
"Time to go to work, Pong."
She ruffled her dog's head and shimmied out of her comfy, faded sweat pants and cotton T-shirt and dropped them as she walked to her bedroom. She changed into her work clothes of dark jeans, flat boots, and a black sweater, and then she scraped her unruly mass of dark brown hair into a prisoner ponytail.
Sophie glanced in the mirror and looked away with a shrug. From a young age, her father had told her daily that it was better to go through life natural, like her, instead of having unwanted attention, which is why no one noticed her when she snapped his or her picture. Part of being a good PI meant she could blend into the background, and blend she did. She could wear Waldo's jersey in a sea of gray and people didn't remember her. She'd always been the too tall, too plain girl that boys didn't notice, which she now owned, but occasionally a remark snuck past the goalie and scored a direct hit.
She snatched her keys from the counter where she'd thrown them earlier.
If all went according to plan tonight she'd be recording a man named Babic so she could get info on his boss, Vladimir Petrov. Then she'd try to figure out why her late father had secret journals, one filled with pages of names of people he'd swindled along with amounts and the towns where they lived, the other obsessed with Petrov — a billionaire shipping magnate.
Which made no sense.
Her father had been a traveling preacher for the people ... or so she'd believed.
For the six years since her father died, she'd been chipping away at the journals, trying to understand how the man who'd rocked her to sleep when she woke from nightmares, the man she'd adored, had deceived her.
If a girl couldn't trust her daddy, whom could she trust?
She took a breath that hurt like a pressed bruise, then set the multitude of alarms and headed out the door. Another Friday night sitting alone in a sex club taping her target's conversation while he got whipped by slaves.
Forty minutes later, Sophie slid into a booth at Hostage. Whips, chains, and medieval racks had found a home in the artsy Colorado town of Yaw Yaw. The club became an instant hit when it opened six months ago. Nestled behind galleries, crystal shops, and yoga studios, the thriving sex club was packed as usual on Friday night.
High-end scent mixed with leather and baby oil assaulted her senses. She stared at a woman sitting on a stool to her left. Her dress was hoisted above her hips, her back arched, a blond head buried between her thighs. A pink wristband dangled from the blonde's wrist, which meant she was a slave ... and hungry.
Her cheeks hot, Sophie turned away and intently studied the information chart on the table advising the color-coding of the wristbands, until her eyes burned.
Green meant you were here as an observer. If you wore red, you were a dom. If your wristband came in orange, you liked to be spanked. If being a slave was your thing, then pink was your color. Gold if you were a submissive, and if purple dangled from your wrist, then you were up for anything.
Sophie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Growing up, she had thought body contact between a man and a woman was for reproduction only. Anything else was the equivalent of eating kittens' souls and chanting in tongues.
She glanced around the club. The furniture, the floor, even the ceiling was painted a matte black. Only the long, rectangular, acrylic tables in the booths, teeming with tropical fish of every highlighter color, broke through the murky darkness.
Groups of people or couples occupied satin-curtained booths or clustered around the bar, talking.
A woman was bent over a fish tank table, being hammered home by a Greek god of a man. Another man stroked himself, his gaze locked on Zeus.
Sophie stared at the swirl of fish, her face flaming.
Poor Nemo, I bet he wants to be out of here as much as I do.
She turned her head and took a sip of the lemony sweetness of margarita. Admission alone was putting a sizeable dent in her dwindling bank balance. Thank God she was starting a new job tonight, because she was barely scraping by. Between paying back her father's sins, getting her car fixed — again — and cooking for her elderly neighbors each week, this was two-minute noodle week, again.
On that happy note, she scanned the club. If Babic followed the same pattern as the last two weeks, soon he'd be getting settled in the corner with a pair of twin busty Barbies with boobs so perfectly round and symmetrical they could be used as flotation devices. Barbie number one would be straddling his lap, Barbie number two straddling her lap.
Playtime without Ken or the Malibu camper.
She checked her watch.
Thank God Sophie the PI walked through the door and not me.
She stood, smoothed her hands down her jeans, and walked the perimeter of the club in the shadows. She usually smelled him before she saw him. The man bathed in scent so strong small insects collapsed when he walked past.
Blond buzz cut, botoxed forehead, teeth so white they resembled a glow stick at a rave.
While Babic watched the Barbies make out, she sidled up to his table and pressed a tiny microphone against the underside of the smooth wood. She'd collect it when playtime finished.
Sophie walked back to her booth, sat on the smooth leather seat, and picked up her drink. A man who could be Babic's twin slipped into his booth. A heated conversation followed, judging by the wild hand gestures from the other man. Babic rapid-fired back while positioning Barbie's head in his lap.
Babic the multitasker.
The margarita turned sour in her mouth.
She kept watching Babic, ignoring nausea and Barbie's bobbing head. After agonizingly long minutes, the man slid out of the booth.
Babic's soulless eyes pinned Sophie. His lazy gaze dropped to the gold band on her wrist, then rose back to her face. The air in Sophie's lungs froze. She let out a breath when his eyes shut. His head hit the back of the leather booth when Barbie picked up the pace.
She glanced around the club, desperate for something else to look at, and spilled her drink when a man's smoky eyes locked on hers.
No freaking way.
With shaking hands, she set her glass down.
As usual, he looked like he'd stepped off a Harley: scuffed boots, aged denim hugging muscled legs, mirrored aviator glasses perching on messy black hair. Powerful arms crossed under his wide chest. The man cranked out enough testosterone to fuel the NFL. A woman stopped beside him, her mouth open, 'yes, please' written on her face.
Sophie ripped her gaze away and ignored the hammering of her heart.
Harlan Franco, Colorado's busiest bounty hunter.
And a total ass.
She'd heard the rumors he had a listing with Groupon where he delivered pleasure to armies of panting women. She drew in a long breath before releasing it slowly.
Eighteen months ago in a hotel bar where they'd been trailing the same jumper, she'd fallen into Harlan's arms, literally, like the clichéd chick in a Hallmark movie. Her breasts had mashed against his hard chest. She'd caught one whiff of him and, much to her dismay, her body had flooded with hormones of the reproducing kind. She'd seen herself reflected in his sunglasses, flushed, her bottom lip snagged between her teeth, as if he'd delivered on his Groupon promise.
Harlan had booked a room, and they were devouring each other, stopping only to remove clothes. He'd wanted her as much as she wanted him, or so she'd thought. His hands tender but rough, his tongue demanding in her mouth, his hands on her aching, swollen breasts. She'd melted against him like chocolate. Harlan had steered them into the bathroom and, instead of having mind-blowing shower sex, he'd grinned, kissed her hard on the mouth, walked out of the bathroom, and wedged a chair under the door.
The embarrassment of standing in her underwear with a kind security guard who'd told her Harlan had flicked him fifty to wait for twenty minutes, then let Sophie out, had wounded her. But the humiliating kicker that stole breath from her lungs and jolted her from sleep was that Harlan had faked his attraction to her all for the sake of bringing in a bail jumper.
She'd seen him a few times since then, always with a breathless blonde attached to his arm. He'd walk away without a backward glance.
Her face burned again with the sting of humiliation.
She'd retaliated by taking Lopez from under his nose.
She picked up her drink, licking salt from the cool rim, her eyes scanning the room before locking on Harlan's. Nothing moved on his face.
Sophie raised her eyebrows, saluted him with her drink, and turned away.
A woman glided past her holding a platter of frozen fruit. Sophie stared at a banana.
I wonder what they do ...
Her cheeks heated.
She stood, turned to gather her bag and move to another part of the club, but Harlan had materialized at her side. Her breasts brushed against his solid arm, and her body shivered.
Without invitation his fingers clamped around hers, surprisingly gentle but with authority.
Lightning traveled through her bones.
This is plain embarrassing.
"What are you doing here, Sophie?"
There was no need for him to know she was here working.
"I'm searching for a big, bad, dom." She flashed her gold wristband, a joke reminder to herself that never again would she let herself be dominated by a man.
She'd had three alpha-male, powerful, demanding lovers and three humiliatingly painful times when she'd turned into their expectation of who they wanted her to be. She didn't understand why she let it happen, but it would never happen again.
He'd been scanning the crowd over her shoulder but at her words, his eyes locked on hers. "Are you alone?"
"I am." She adjusted the strap on her bag.
She was her own best friend.
The techno beat from the packed dance floor sent vibrations up her spine, then changed to a low, sexy Latin American dance. She didn't have to turn around to imagine what was happening on the dance floor.
His Daniel Craig blues roamed from her head to her boots in a lazy, insolent way that fused her molars.
You can drop the act — we both know you're not interested in me.
Up close, the man was delicious. Long, dark lashes framed sinful sapphire eyes that on any other man would be pretty, but you wouldn't call this man pretty. Naturally-tanned skin stretched over high-cut cheekbones. Straight white teeth. Lips made for pleasuring. It appeared he shaved when he wanted, and he hadn't wanted to for a while. Her mouth watered taking in his ripped arms. At five feet nine in flat boots, she'd tucked nicely under his chin.
Unfortunately, she knew he tasted like a tall glass of sin.
He walked into any room like he owned it. Heads turned, both male and female, especially female, and Harlan looked like he didn't know or care.
"Got to say I did not appreciate you stealing Lopez," he said after a beat. "I'd been trailing him for weeks. That man was mine."
She stared at him, stunned. So he was going to ignore the elephant in the room that he'd left her dressed only in underwear after pretending he was attracted to her, just to get a jumper?
Her mouth dropped open, but she slammed it shut.
Fine by me.I'd just as soon forget that terrible afternoon existed.
But she couldn't forget, because at unintentional times it reared up, and that horrible feeling of thinking she had been invited to a party, only to turn up and find out she'd been the only one in the church not invited, still burned.
"Are you still on about that? I didn't steal him from you. The man was mine. I flirted with him, and he followed like a horny teen thinking he was about to get lucky." Harlan looked about as happy as if he were attending a Tupperware party. His stance wide, face unreadable. She cocked her head. "I hear the medieval rack has an opening. You should take it, might loosen you up a bit."
His warm chuckle rolled across her skin. His blue eyes sparkled, and for one long moment, she forgot to breathe. Luckily, her lungs obeyed biology, and she hauled in a breath.
He leaned in close, his heat hitting her like a summer storm. "Show me how you got Lopez to follow you, and I'll tell you the reason I'm here."
She blinked. "Are you here working?" She deflected and took another sip of her drink, and her brain cranked up a gear. If he was here working a case she could nab his jumper and pay back another name in her father's journal.
Her gaze slid around the high-end club. In the corner, Babic pounded into Barbie number two while Barbie number one whipped his butt. Angry red welts crisscrossed his skin.
Sophie stared, perplexed. How can he be so comfortable naked in a room full of people, having sex while getting flogged?
Someone bumped into her from behind. She pitched forward. Harlan's arm curled around her waist. Her fingers clutched impossibly hard biceps, and her body heated to the point she could toast her breakfast cinnamon rolls on bases one and two.
He released her as if she were diseased.
Yet again the sting of humiliation slithered across her skin. She pulled the band holding her hair tighter.
If he were here following a jumper, she'd get the reward and the satisfaction of beating Harlan. Oh yeah, she'd so take his jumper.
"Okay, I'll show you how I got Lopez to follow me, and then I'll be finding Mr. Big, Bad Dom for the night, so let's get this show on the road. I'll need a new margarita with a cherry."
By a miracle of intervention, a black-suited waiter materialized. Before she could pass the waiter money, Harlan lay bills on the tray, murmured something in his ear and, in record time, the man appeared with a frosty glass.
Excerpted from Bound to the Bounty Hunter by Hayson Manning, Lewis Pollak. Copyright © 2016 Hayson Manning. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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