Exploited (Dark Redemption, Book 1)
Exploited (Dark Redemption, Book 1)
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~ Brede Rawls ~
For years I’ve left a path of death and destruction wherever I go, earning my way as a paid assassin. I promise myself that after one last job I’ll have the money I desperately need to quit taking lives. That’s how I find myself back in my hometown of Lexington.
Blair Lockhart isn’t like the other targets. She’s beautiful and harmless, and I unknowingly saved her life when I was supposed to silence her forever.
That doesn’t make me her guardian angel, though. Letting Blair live comes with a cost – her innocence and my freedom.
The two of us have more in common than we thought. We were both ruined by our pasts that just so happens to intersect. Pasts that we’re still trying to outrun.
Fate brought us together, and now, I’ll do anything to protect Blair. I won’t rest until I finally punish the man who ruined both of our lives.
There’s just one problem. Blair has been keeping secrets from me – the biggest one of which is that I’m not the only one who has defiled and exploited her.
- Possessive Hero
- Running from Danger
- Secret Identity
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On the drive across town, I try to think of anything I might want to do before the end. Eat some good food, that’s for sure. Have a cupcake or an entire cake to celebrate the ten birthdays that have gone by without a card or notice from another single soul. I miss cake. My mother made the most delicious chocolate, three layer cake every year for my birthday that I can remember, until that day…What else do I want to do on my last day on earth? Oh, I’ve always wanted a tattoo! Maybe I could get the butterflies and flowers I associate with the star-crossed lovers. I’m sure I can find a tattoo parlor around here.
Saving my mental bucket list for later, I pull up in front of the paint-chipped building with black bars on the outside of all the windows and doors and turn off the ignition. The small neon sign says they’re open, so grabbing my purse, a pink messenger bag decorated with a white kitten wearing pink sunglasses that I found in my childhood bedroom, I square my shoulders and try to look like a confident woman instead of the scared little child that I am.
When the door buzzes, announcing my arrival in the otherwise empty store, an overweight, balding man on the other side of the counter doesn’t even bother looking up from his laptop. That’s right, I’m invisible. Nothing new.
I casually walk around the cluttered racks and shelves of used junk, touching lamps and other random things occasionally, as if I’m just browsing and not intent on buying an illegal gun. I just keep wandering around until, what do you know, the shiny guns in the glass case just so happen to catch my eye. There are three choices, small, medium and large. I’m sure a gun enthusiast would know more about them like make or model, but to me, it’s just eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Deciding on the large one so that I do this right the first time, I pull out the wad of cash I grabbed from my childhood piggy bank and start counting out the three hundred dollars required for my purchase based on the handwritten price tag. I lose count when the door buzzes, announcing another customer. Nosy, I glance over to see who it is.
My blood warms in my veins, sending a scalding blaze of heat from my scalp down to my toes at the mere sight of the tall man. Everything about him screams dangerous, from the thick chestnut-colored facial hair to his black leather jacket in summer and the cigarette billowing a cloud of smoke from between his two fingers. When he removes his dark sunglasses, it’s his lowered brow and deep set eyes that are the scariest. His cold gaze undresses me from my V-neck tee down to my open-toed platform sandals before he deems me lacking and quickly moves on to the used guitar display in the corner. But at least he actually saw me, if only for a few, brief seconds.
Trying to ignore the man, even with my skin tingling from the ridiculous feeling that his eyes are still on me, I go back to counting my ones, fives, and tens until I reach three-hundred. I recount to make sure it’s correct before I clear my throat to get the clerk’s attention.
Of course, Mr. Clean with a beer gut doesn’t immediately notice me with my wad of money, so I stand there and wait patiently, staring at him until he finally looks up from his laptop.
“Something I can help you with, sweetheart?” he asks, getting off his stool to come over to the display case across from me.
I nod and push the cash to him, tapping my fingernail on the glass above the largest gun.
“Do you have an ID?” he asks with a cocked gray eyebrow.
Digging in my kitty purse, I pretend to search for a wallet and driver’s license that doesn’t exist and sigh dramatically to convey my annoyance when I don’t find them. The man mumbles something under his breath before he pulls on the retractable cord for a key attached to his belt and unlocks the case to remove the gun. Once it’s out, he grabs up the cash and walks over to the cash register, waving a hand for me to follow.
I turn to do just that, happy that this is actually working, but a wall of black leather suddenly blocks my way.
“What’s a nice little rich girl like you want with a big, bad Smith & Wesson?” The deep, scratchy voice of the smoker asks. I take a step back to go around him, refusing to let him think he’s intimidating me, even if he is. He sidesteps, blocking my path again, now so close that I can smell the cigarettes on his breath. “If it’s protection you need, well, baby, I’m big and bad, too, but I’m gonna need you to pay me in a slightly different kind of currency.”
I try to stifle my gasp of fear and….something else in the pit of my stomach when I lower my eyes to his scuffed black boots. Taking a wider birth around him this time, I actually make it to the cash register, his rumbly, mocking laughter trailing behind me.
“That’ll be three hundred twenty-one with tax,” the salesman says to me while his eyes remain nervously over my shoulder, focused on the other customer. Ready to get the heck out of the store, I dig out twenty-one more dollars from my purse and hand it to him. Two minutes later, he gives me my ticket out of this world in a plastic bag. Only once I rush to get outside and take a breath of fresh air on the sidewalk do I realize that, in my haste, I forgot something pretty freaking important.
Before I can gather the courage to walk back inside the pawn shop, the sparkly chrome from a beautiful motorcycle parked on the curb in front of the Audi catches my eyes. It looks so familiar to the only other one I’ve ever seen before in real life. A classic Harley-Davidson, there’s even the same red flames and black leather padded seat like the one I remember seeing my mother sitting against once. Just once, when he was dropping her off, and I was playing outside with my babysitter. My mother had looked…happy. No, more than happy. It was like she was elated either because of the ride on the bike or because of the man she had her arms wrapped around. The memory always stayed with me since it was the first time I ever saw that look on her face. And the last.
Without thinking, my fingertips reach out and stroke the fading flame closest to me.
“Get your fucking hands off my bike,” a gruff voice bellows from behind me, causing me to jerk away from the Harley and scramble back up on the sidewalk. Looking over my shoulder, I see the smoker coming out of the store, the one who looks up to no good. His eyes are narrowed, and the look on his face says he’s considering breaking all the bones in my hand as punishment for daring to touch his baby. Instead of running away, I hold his icy blue gaze as he comes closer and lift my chin. Someone should punish me. I deserve to be beaten bloody and left for dead after what I’ve done. Why not let him do it? It would save me from having to do it myself.
When he simply continues to stare at me, only a foot of space between us, I place the plastic bag containing my new gun into my kitty messenger bag before I do the unthinkable. Something completely out of character for the old, scaredy-cat Blair. New Blair, the courageous one, who only has a few hours left before she blows her brains out, turns around, grabs the handlebar and throws her leg over the leather seat. And then, because I can’t prevent it, I smile. The expression on the big, bad dude’s face is too funny, a mixture of shock and rage. There’s also what could be lust; but since I haven’t ever been around many normal men before, I could be wrong.
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