Ashley frowned as she realized she was completely lost.
Why did she have no sense of direction? Other people could find their way no matter what, but she got lost crossing a street if she were distracted.
Add to it that she’d just moved in, and it hadn’t taken much for Ashley to find herself entirely turned around with no idea which direction her apartment lay.
It had been her first shift working late at the seedy bar, the only place she could get a job, and she hadn’t thought about how different the city would look at night.
It turned out that three a.m. looked nothing like five in the evening.
I’m sick of starting over. She’d repeated that to herself while she’d gone through the motions at her job, trying to learn yet another trade.
How many was that? How many dead-end jobs had she picked up because they paid in cash and didn’t require paperwork?
Too many to count.
And here she was again. New neighborhood. New apartment. New job.
She thought back to her empty apartment, to the bags she hadn’t even been able to bring herself to unpack. Not that she had anywhere to put the stuff, since she had no furniture to her name.
The night had been brutal, and her feet ached. Nine hours of running orders had exhausted her, but the tips had been worth it. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about starving.
Ashley pulled at the strap of her purse and peered around, searching for some sign she recognized, something that would lead her in the right direction.
Her prepaid cell phone let her make calls, but without data on it, she couldn’t use it to find her way.
Every step reminded her of just how tired her feet were. The bus had dropped her off at the right stop—at least, she thought so—but after that? No clue.
She had walked herself right into an unsavory area, though. Or a more unsavory area than usual. Her apartment wasn’t great, and she slept with a can of pepper spray clutched in her hand, but at least the street lights outside her apartment worked.
The flickering of these said she should hightail it out of there as fast as possible.
If only she knew where out of there was…
A rhythmic sound caught her attention, and no matter how much she tried to ignore it, it wouldn’t stop.
Ashley risked a glance over her shoulder to find a large male figure following her.
Stop being paranoid.
She turned one corner, then another, but she couldn’t shake him. The heavy smack of his shoes against the concrete grew louder as he got closer.
Worse, Ashley didn’t see anyone else. It was too late for normal traffic and too early for people going off to work.
She quickened her steps, turning down another alleyway, rushing to put distance between them. She could take a few quick turns, lose the man behind her then somehow find her apartment.
At least, that was the plan before she twisted around the last corner and ran into a very large body.
The impact bounced her back a few steps, but she kept her balance, ready to apologize, when she met the gaze of the man she’d run into.
A chilling grin was spread across his cracked lips, one that made her stomach drop. Worse? He lifted his gaze past her, and the man who had been following her, the one who had dogged her steps for blocks, stood there.
They exchanged a knowing look.
Should have just taken a cab.
* * * *
Torrin shook his head as he looked down at the corpse before him. What a waste.
Not the man himself. He doubted the now-dead beta had ever done anything in his life worth mourning over, and Torrin felt no real guilt over them ending it.
Instead, it was the lost opportunities, the information, the possible influence now gone.
People were, in general, useless when dead, and the slice across his throat showed this man to be very dead indeed.
“Do you think he was telling the truth?” Liam asked, his gaze on the body.
Torrin shrugged. “Perhaps. We’ll know soon enough.”
Erik had wiped the blade that had made that slice clean on the beta’s shirt, like a little ritual he could never quite let go of. Then again, Erik was a man of ritual. “I would bet the information is good. He thought he could sell out to you and keep living the high life.”
They always thought that. Every lowlife in this city assumed they could manipulate Torrin, that they could manipulate anyone and never pay for their crimes.
Not that Torrin was some avenging spirit setting right wrongs. His cheek twitched at the thought, at the absurdity of anyone thinking of him as the hero of any story.
No. Torrin was, at best, the anti-hero, and that was likely giving him too much credit. He’d gotten where he was in life by being vicious, by putting down anyone who opposed him, anyone who caused him trouble. That last part had brought them here to deal with the beta, a man who had stolen from Torrin and thought he could disappear into the shadows of the city.
“Should we dispose of the body?” Liam tucked his hands into his jacket.
Erik sheathed his knife at his hip. “No reason to. In this area, it’ll be assumed to be another gang.”
Torrin nodded. “Leave the body. Let’s get back, because I’d prefer not to spend all night out here.”
Liam huffed a soft laugh as they left the apartment, closing the door behind them. The building was silent at that time of night, and it was the sort of place where people minded their own business. It was one of the few good things about being in that area of town—no one got involved and no one ever saw anything.
It all made getting in and out undetected an easy matter.
It was three in the morning, and since he had a meeting at nine, it seemed he wouldn’t be getting much sleep.
Not that that was all that unusual. Work consumed Torrin, both his happy place and his hell.
They went out through the back, because a camera sat at the front entrance, and while he doubted it actually worked, he tended toward caution.
A chill met them when they exited into the back alleyway, though it was the slightly sour stench of garbage that bothered him.
“Leave me alone.” Soft, feminine words caught his attention. Not fearless, but rather uttered like a plea.
Erik and Liam both twisted their heads in the same direction, as if called by that voice, like a siren’s song.
At the edge of the alleyway stood three figures. The two men Torrin wrote off immediately. Determining threat was a life skill for him, and he did it flawlessly. They were bottom-feeders, the sort who preyed on the weak and lived in the cracks, afraid of the light and anything bigger and tougher than they were—which was everything.
The third was the woman who had spoken. She was five-four or so, and curvy in a way that gave him far more ideas than were appropriate given the situation. Her hair was dark brown and in a messy ponytail, the ends curled as if she’d had it done nicely before putting it up. Fear skirted across her features, shining in her large dark eyes as she backed away from the two approaching men.
“Come on, honey,” one of the men said in a voice that dripped perverted lust. “We ain’t rough.”
A growl came from Torrin, a surprising and rare reaction. He didn’t show emotion. He rarely smiled, never laughed and surely didn’t growl.
Yet when the woman’s back hit the wall of the building behind her, when she had nowhere left to retreat and could only whisper that same plea again, Torrin felt that anger inside him.
He took a step forward, but the action forced his hand to tighten around his cane and his hip to protest, a reminder that he wasn’t as quick as his cousins. Erik and Liam had mirrored his movement, as though they all felt the same draw. They didn’t get involved as a rule, since they had enough of their own problems. Even he couldn’t imagine walking away, though.
Dealing with the two would be an easy matter for them.
The woman never saw them, her attention on the men she thought were the threats. While Torrin and his kin didn’t harm defenseless females, there was no doubt he was far more dangerous than the men who had thought to victimize her.
Erik’s hand went to his knife before it paused, as if he’d thought better of it. No need to leave another two bodies.
Not that Torrin minded putting down the assholes. Which, again, was strange. He killed when needed, but otherwise?
It was that same rage that gripped him, the one that for some reason wanted these men to pay.
Was it the female?
Liam set a hand over the side of one man’s face and yanked, striking his head against the dumpster. He dropped to the ground, unmoving. It wouldn’t kill him, most likely, but Torrin struggled to care if he recovered.
Erik, always the more subtle of the two, wrapped an arm around the other man’s throat at the same time. The man struggled against the grip, but couldn’t get leverage and quickly succumbed to the choke hold. As soon as he went lax, Erik eased his body down.
The woman flattened herself against the wall more, eyes wide enough for Torrin to realize that they weren’t brown. Instead, they were a dark blue.
“Don’t hurt me,” she whispered, her soft voice sounding sweeter the nearer Torrin got to her.
He closed the distance until he stood just in front of her.
She smelled amazing—sweet and wild. His mouth watered as he took in every detail of her. She was younger, twenty-five at most, and wore a pair of shorts that showed off long, tan legs. She wasn’t thin, but instead had the sort of body Torrin could lose himself in for hours, with curves and softness that would drive a man to his knees in praise.
He wanted to touch her, to grasp that ponytail and pull her into a kiss.
And the moment his hand moved as if to do so, Torrin froze.
What the fuck?
He backed away, his steps almost clumsy as he frowned at his reaction.
“Get her home,” he said before turning around and walking toward the street.
He knew nothing about the girl beyond two very important facts.
He wanted her—badly—and she was far too dangerous to give in to.