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The Riptide Series


Rush

Part One


ADVANCED READER COPY.

THIS DOCUMENT MAY NOT BE SHARED.


By Brooke Page




Copyright 2018

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Brooke Page


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.




Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Minors under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex are considered to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

- Polaris:National Human Trafficking Hotline





Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Resources on Human Trafficking

Acknowledgements

Books By Brooke Page





Prologue




“Once you sign this contract, there’s no turning back.”

The tapping of his pen on the table was in sync with my bouncing knee. My palms were as sweaty as the back of my neck. I was beyond ready to seal the deal we’d finally worked out after four hours of negotiations. The distorted life I’d been a puppet in had crumbled beyond repair, and signing my life over was the only hope I had for redemption.

It was the only way I’d get my revenge. “I understand.”

The hard blue eyes sitting across the table stared at me intently. They held pity, but like everyone else, Riley knew the demon inside of me. I’d grown up the quiet, mysterious one, hiding behind the monster who wanted to mold me into his successor.

But I never wanted to fit into his cookie cutter mold, and she didn’t want that either. She had faith I’d break the chains and become a better man.

A man that might be able to escape the hell hole she selfishly brought me into.

I didn’t see it that way, though. Protecting and saving her was my purpose, and I failed miserably. If only she knew how sorry I was. The constant ache deep in my soul was a painful reminder every damn day.

“When the job is done, you’ll need to relocate within a twelve-hour time period. Can you manage that?”

Nodding, I placed the tip of the pen to the paper, a tremor shaking through my hand. This wasn’t supposed to be a hard decision. They offered me nearly everything I wanted. Erasing my revolting past to give me a second chance.

I wanted the new name.

I needed the new beginning.

Because the miniscule amount of good buried deep inside of me was clawing through the ugliness, desperate for a chance to rise above the pain and suffering I’d kept locked away.

“You can take some time to think about it, but I’m afraid this is going to be your best option.”

Closing my eyes, her pale, lifeless face flashed in my memory. Remembering the icy feeling when I touched her cheek, her dark hair stuck to her forehead from the salty water she’d been dumped in when I found her lying on the shore of the ocean. The glassed-over look in her lifeless eyes haunted my dreams, never fading when I woke.

The vision was what I needed to fuel my hatred. He was going to pay for taking her from this world before it was her time. If meeting my maker with blood on my hands was the price to pay, it would be worth it.

I’d avenge every damaged soul my father had stolen for his narcissistic empire.

My trembling hand turned into rage, scribbling my name across the dotted line with force. “I don’t need time to think about it.”

Riley’s jaw tightened as he watched me toss the pen on the table. “Congratulations. Welcome to the good side.” Standing, he straightened his sport coat and rebuttoned it, leaving me alone under the single spotlight in the empty room.

The good side.

There was no good side.

At least not yet.



Chapter One



Vance


“Bar’s packed.” Colt anxiously raked his fingers through his short blond hair, scanning the plethora of young and hopeless scantily-dressed women.

Tucker rubbed his hands together, ready to put to use the skills I had taught him. Over the pumping music, he chanted, “I can’t wait!”

We’re hunters—young, attractive, desirable, and dangerous. Designed to persuade women into making choices that would destroy their lives.

“Don’t forget the stereotype,” I reminded, handing both Tucker and Colt a wad full of cash.

“The outcasts. I remember,” Tucker mumbled, taking the money. “We can play with them first, right?”

“Yes. Only if they’re willing,” I warned. “Don’t rape them.”

“Got it,” Colt said quietly. He’d been a nervous wreck all day, paranoid about tonight and if he would be able to catch girls. He was good looking with a charming smile. No doubt ladies would be all over him, but we were specific about the girls we chose to come with us.

Tucker gave a wicked grin, his blue eyes sparkling deviously. He wagged the little bag filled with different narcotics in front of Colt’s face. “This will help them make up their minds.”

My eyes hardened. “Be careful with that.” I yanked the drugs from him, smacking it flat against his chest, causing an umph to escape his lips. “Don’t flaunt that shit.”

Tucker’s face fell, grabbing the bag from me and shoving my hand away from him.

“If you’re good, you don’t need the drugs. Come on,” I instructed, waving for them to follow me through the club. It was busy, filled with the last of the Spring Breakers. Girls would get wild tonight, knowing they were heading back to their miserable lives far away from the beach.

Hopefully their intuition would prod them to stay away from us, otherwise, their lives were about to get even more wretched then what they already were.

Tucker and Colt’s jobs were to find girls to work as prostitutes.

I had a different job. One I was willing to do in order to get back at my good for nothing father. If I caught the right girl, a Dove, I’d infiltrate his twisted business, putting his ass in a cell block where he couldn’t hurt anyone ever again.

The girl who became the Dove would endure some scars, but my hatred for my own blood overpowered my fear for the woman who would be sacrificed.

She would be sold to a Vulture, the sickest fuckers there are in this underground world, until the FBI would intervene. It was worth the risk in my eyes. My hostility for my father was a constant knife digging into my back, slowly bleeding with an overwhelming rage of guilt.

The bouncer gave us a nod as we passed into the back bar, loud club music making my ears throb. “Go out back,” I yelled in Tucker’s ear. “That’s where they’ll be.”

Both of them followed me to the deck, and sure enough, a girl was staring off into space by herself, smoking a cigarette with a pout to her lips. I tilted my head in her direction. She was dressed in a tight dress, something she was obviously uncomfortable wearing considering she kept fidgeting and tugging on it near her thigh. Tucker nodded, passing by me to approach her. Colt watched, then spotted a few girls on the other side of the deck. One was shut out, a frown on her face. She clearly was out of place with the group she was with, her tank top and jean shorts didn’t match the other form fitting dresses, and her hair was curled into a bun while the other girl’s had their hair done up with hairspray and volume.

His eyes passed from mine to the group of women, then he paced to them, introducing himself with charm and ease. He was good at talking. Getting a girl to become a prostitute? I wasn’t sold yet.

Finding a spot at the bar where I could keep an eye on both of them, I ordered a vodka soda, keeping my eyes open for a Dove.

Hours passed, women came and left, and I kept my eye on the new bartender. She was small and mousy with blonde stringy hair, wearing glasses over her pale blue eyes and looking extremely out of place. She kept running her hands along her black shorts and uniform tank top. The more outgoing, and very attractive bartender was irritated with her, shooting nasty glances and barking orders in her direction. The girl was run down, it was obvious by her tired eyes and slumped shoulders. I wondered what her story was.

It was nearing one o’clock in the morning when I finally reached out to talk to her.

“You new here?” I asked, thankful the music on the back bar outside wasn’t anywhere as loud as it was inside of the club.

She didn’t smile, but nodded, tucking her hair behind her ears.

“Not liking the job?”

She gave me a small grin. “Is it that obvious?”

I winked. “Only a little. When are you done?”

She glanced at the other bartender, who glared at her, making the girl shrivel even more than she already was. “I could probably leave now.”

Smirking, I waved the other bartender over. She reluctantly came at first, until she got a good look at me. Practically shoving the shy girl out of the way, she leaned over the bar, putting her cleavage on full display. I took a long glance, a slight grin spreading across my face so she knew I noticed. I didn’t want anything to do with this super bitch, but I wanted her to say yes to what I was about to ask.

“Your newbie needs a break.”

Ms. Tits rolled her eyes then touched my forearm. “I’m sorry, she’s terrible, and not very pretty. I’d be happy to get you whatever you want.”

I flashed my smile at her, leaning forward so our faces were inches apart. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and slid it between her boobs. “Why don’t you let her take off, then you and I can get to know each other on this side of the bar?”

Her eyes widened with lust, taking the money out of her tits and pulling her shirt down more for me to take a peek inside. I rose my brows, showing her my appreciation. She whipped her head toward the shy one. “Go the fuck home, Abby.”

Abby. I looked over bartender bitch’s shoulder, offering a friendly smile to Abby.

With furrowed brows and slumped shoulders, she grabbed her things and left the bar. She was on the verge of tears, just how I needed her to be.

By the time Ms. Tits had brought me a drink, I’d already slipped away.

Good thing I rotated bars as often as I could. Surely this bartender would be hard to shake if I came here on a regular basis.

“Hey, wait up,” I jogged after Abby into the parking lot. “Hope that was okay.”

She hugged herself and kept her eyes on the ground. “Yeah. I’m not really good at being a bartender. I need the money, though.”

Jackpot.

“Can’t your friends help you find a different job where there isn’t a mega bitch as your co-worker?”

Abby fidgeted. “I don’t really have many of those.”

My hands were in my pockets as I leaned my back against her car. “Friends are overrated, especially if you have a significant other.”

Her frown deepened and her eyes moistened. “Nope. Not anymore.”

She was making this too easy for me. Guilt ran through my bones, wondering if I really could do this. Abby was most likely at her lowest point in life and on the verge of shattering. My stomach clenched knowing I could easily pursuade her decisions. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I remembered my hatred for Marcus.

“I’m Vance.” I held my hand out for her to take. She eyed it warily while biting her lip.

I chuckled. “I won’t bite. I figured introducing myself would be appropriate considering I followed you outside in the early hours of the morning.”

Her cheeks flushed, then her hand cautiously took mine, a weak grip within my strong hold.

She hesitated at first, but then gave in. “Abby.”

“Nice to you meet you, Abby. You new to The Shore?”

She let go of my hand and rubbed her biceps in the breezy air. “I’ve been here a few weeks. I needed a change of scenery.”

I stood taller, taking a step so we were standing only inches apart. “You’re ex is an idiot for letting you come here by yourself.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “How do you know I even have an ex?”

Removing my hands from my pockets, I took a step backward. “You’re too pretty to have been single your whole life, and I’m sure whoever he was didn’t know how to treat you the way a woman deserves to be treated.”

She slowly tilted her head to look at me. Big, lost blue eyes stared into my sea green pupils as if I had all the answers in the world.

“You must get a lot of women to go home with you using that line.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t run across beautiful women that often, and I’m not one to just take a woman home with me. I’ve got a bit of an old school approach.”

She rose a brow, a smile lifting on her lips. “Why do I find that hard to believe?”

I shrugged. “I mean, I’m not going to turn a girl down if she wants a kiss, but I’m also not into coming on too strong.”

The brightness of her smile surpassed the bags under her eyes. She was pretty. “Want to go get some breakfast? My treat.”

Her grin faded, and her brows pinched. She was contemplating.

I held my hands up. “We could always pick another day. Maybe when you don’t work?”

“There isn’t a day I don’t work,” she huffed.

So she needed money, to. This could work out. “How about I come back next week?”

She nodded, another smile forming on her lips. “Yeah, okay.”

I waited for her to open her car door, but she only stood there. Was she not ready to leave me yet?

“It’s been really nice talking to you,” she said softly. “You’re the first person who’s actually been kind to me.”

I frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. But, I find that hard to believe. There were men hitting on you all night.”

She blushed. “No, they weren’t. They were just trying to get to my co-worker.”

“If that’s true, then they’re crazy. You shined like a diamond behind that bar.” I took a step closer to her. “She was as dull as a piece of rust.”

Her breath hitched, and a sparkle formed in her eyes. She leaned toward me, but still kept some distance. She was interested, and flattered, and I might have a shot.

Forgoing every ethical nerve inside of me, I grabbed her chin, pulling her mouth to meet with mine. She cowered at first, then melted as if she hadn’t felt another person’s touch in a lifetime. Wrapping my arms around her waist, I held her close, diving my tongue into her mouth. She fisted my shirt, groaning softly with desire.

I could taste her need to be controlled and told what to do with her life. She was searching for more than just intimacy in her kiss, she needed someone to make decisions she didn’t know how to resolve.

She would be a perfect Dove.

“Want to get out of here?” I asked through heavy pants, planting my mouth on hers before she could respond.

Breaking away, she took a deep breath, closing her eyes and contemplating. Just as I was about to go in for another kiss, she stepped away. “Not tonight.”

My insides relaxed in relief. Offering a half smile, I let her go, putting my hands in my pockets before I used physical connection to make her change her mind. No doubt she was looking for an excuse to tell me no. “Does that mean another night?”

She blushed, running her hand through her hair. “Maybe.”

I grinned and opened the car door for her, kissing her cheek in the process. I could have swayed her decision, but I felt like I might vomit going through the motions of capturing her.

Rolling down her window, she gave me a ghost of a smile. “I’ll see you around, Vance.”

Leaning down so I could see her through her window, I said, “You bet. Have a good night.”

Once she drove out of the parking lot, my knees buckled, my chest heaving as if the wind had been knocked out of me. My head pounded as shame swarmed through me. You almost ruined that girl’s life, even more than it already is. I coughed, dry heaving in the process. How the fuck was I going to go through with this? Would my animosity toward my father force me to be that destructive?

Steadying myself against a nearby car, I took deep breaths, pulling out my wallet to get Riley’s burner phone number. I couldn’t do this. I needed to tell him I wanted out before I went insane with guilt.

Behind the number was a picture of my mother. My breathing slowed to a steady rhythm as I examined the picture. She was beautiful with her sandy blonde hair, her smile bright as if she were proud of me.

Sadness filled me as I looked back at her. She wouldn’t be proud I was going through with Marcus’s human trafficking excursion.

But… she would be proud of me for avenging her death.

“Forgive me, Mom, but I have to do this,” I whispered into the breeze, stroking the photo with my thumb.



Chapter Two



Lauren


“You sure you’re okay with driving the next three hours?” Marcy, my best friend, asked. I’d sat co-pilot five of the fifteen hours we’d already driven. My eyes weren’t tired, and focusing on the open road helped my scattered thoughts become muted.

“Just take the early hours on the way back,” I smiled. My blue, troubled eyes were hidden by my sunglasses. I was only nineteen, but my life had been a cluster of disappointment and uncertainty.

“On the way back? I thought we weren’t coming back?” she teased.

I laughed under my breath.

“Colby would miss you too much,” she added, unscrewing the top to her bottle of pop. “I know you’ve been thinking about him the entire ride.”

“I have not,” I lied.

The glare she sent me while taking a swig of her drink was filled with empathy. “He really does love you, Lo.”

My eyes watered behind my sunglasses. Why was it so hard for me to believe he had the best intentions for me? Colby was a good guy. He gave me space, but would be there in an instant if I needed him. It hurt him when I didn’t respond to his invitation of co-habitating, and instead took off on an eighteen-hour road trip with his cousin, without him. He asked when I was coming back, and I still had yet to respond to the text message.

“I get that you’re afraid to have a relationship, I really do. He wants to take care of you, though,” she added.

Finally, she accepted my silence and leaned her seat backward to fall asleep. Marcy knew I didn’t like to talk about Colby and his affection for me. I would open up to her once I had a few days of breathing in the salty air. It always seemed to calm my nerves.

YaYa helped, she was Marcy and Colby’s grandmother, but she felt like mine too. She was loving, generous, and devoted to her family. Qualities I wasn’t used to getting from the only adult in my life.

My phone chirped, notifying me of a text message. As if she realized I’d been comparing her to someone else.

Mom: Where are you?

Guilt rushed me for not telling her I was leaving town. Normally it was a few days before she sent me a message. This must have been record timing. Glancing between my phone and the road, I replied back.

Me: I’m going to Alabama with Marcy. Not sure when I’ll be home.

She began typing instantly. I rolled my eyes, tossing my phone between the seats before I could see her response. I already had an unclear head, and texting with my mother while driving would sure enough get me killed.

“Was that Colby?” Marcy yawned, resituating in her seat.

“No, he knows when to leave me alone.”

“Dearest Mom, then?” she asked, but already knew the answer.

“The one and only,” I sighed.

“You’re too good to that low-life.”

Marcy was right, but I was all my mom had. Inside I was desperate for her to change, but knew in my heart it would never happen. Eventually I’d tell her where the stash of cash was hidden in my room. She’d never survive if I left her without part of the little income I made at the Arcade and Go-Kart Fun Spot in our small town.

“Once I have enough money for college, I won’t have to worry about her.” It wasn’t a total lie. I wanted to go to school and make something of myself, but I didn’t have the heart to completely abandon my mother. I didn’t know what I wanted to go to school for either.

“There are loans for that.” Marcy didn’t believe my game plan.

“I don’t want to be owned by a bank my entire life.”

“If you go to college and get a good job, you can pay them off, but that would require leaving the lovely town of Harris.”

“I’ve got time. Besides, I can’t leave your uncle hanging at the Arcade.”

Marcy snorted. “Ain’t that the truth. Your cut-off jean shorts and tanks are what keep the young kids entertained, not the quarter costing video games.”

I waved my hand at her in dismissal.

“Those fourteen year old boys don’t know what to do with themselves when you bend over to get the baseballs and softballs from the batting cages.”

“That’s gross.”

“What’s more gross is how they beat off the second they reach the bathroom. You know how disgusting those stalls are? I’d hate to see what it’d look like with a black light.”

I winced. “You can stop now.”

“Fine, but it’s the truth. They can’t get enough of the blonde bomb shell with a booty.”

“Your butt is way nicer than mine,” I pointed out. It was the truth. She was part Hispanic and had curves to die for. Her dark brown hair looked dazzling with her tan complexion, her green eyes standing out perfectly with her full lips. She was who the boys at the Arcade really admired.

“I know,” she smiled, “hence why I don’t work there anymore.”

Shaking my head, I turned up the music and drove.



***



We arrived in record time, thanks to the lack of traffic. The end of May was The Shores’ calm after the spring break storm, and before the summer beach travelers invaded.

“YaYa!” Marcy shrieked as she ran to her grandmother. She stood barely five feet tall, dressed in slacks and a heavy sweater. I never understood how she didn’t sweat in the heat.

“Marcy,” YaYa cooed, wrapping her in a warm embrace.

Retrieving our bags from the trunk, I tried to not feel awkward. YaYa was amazing, but she still wasn’t my own blood. I yearned to have the same connection as Marcy and YaYa.

After Marcy let go, she came back to me, taking some of the luggage.

“My Lo Lo,” YaYa called to me, her wrists flicking for me to come and give her a hug.

Throwing my bag over my shoulder, I scurried to her, accepting her hug as a toddler does to her mother. She smelled like a mix between lavender and fresh sweet corn. I breathed her in, feeling safe and at home.

“Lauren, it’s been a while. What’s new in your life?” she asked, kissing me on the cheek, keeping an arm around me as we approached the steps. The woman was nearing eighty years old, but took the creaky wooden steps like a champ. Her home was small and on stilts so the water wouldn’t ruin everything when the storms and high tides came through.

“Same old thing,” I smiled, opening the door to the kitchen. Nothing had changed about YaYa’s house. Same sea shell wallpaper along the back of the tiny kitchen, light blue walls painted in the living room with white wicker furniture. There were three bedrooms, one for YaYa and the other two were reserved for Marcy and Colby. When I strolled passed his room, I stopped for a moment, an ache filling me.

He’d held me many nights on top of the tan comforter of the twin bed. Stroking my hair and pressing his lips to my forehead, telling me life was easier here, and to not think about what was happening at home.

“You can stay in here if you want,” Marcy cooed, speeding past me to her room. “At least until Colby finds a way to come here and woo you.” She wiggled her brows at me before stepping into her room.

Cortar hacia fuera!” YaYa scolded then gave me a grin, “Stay wherever you’d like. Don’t listen to Marcy. You niñas are too young to worry about boys.”

“I’ll stay with Marcy.” I didn’t need the reminder of Colby, and the fact I couldn’t be who he wanted me to be.

Finding the room, I let out a soft sigh of contentment. The bunks were still the same, a soft pale pink comforter on one, while the other was cream. There were crocheted blankets on the foot of each bed. YaYa made them herself, a blend of creams and greens. I always pondered ‘accidently’ packing one to take home. The walls were a seafoam, a series of starfish planted around the window that overlooked the strip of the touristy town. We could see the high-rise hotels that would hold the mounds of spring breakers looking for fun and temporary love. They were deserted this time of year. Marcy would be disappointed, but that wouldn’t stop her eyes from finding new prospects.

“You want the top as usual?” Marcy asked, beginning to un-pack her bags in the dresser.

“Sure.” The top bunk allowed snippets of the ocean to come into view at night. The stars always shined brighter against the reflection of the water.

“Hussle, niñas, I need help in the kitchen for dinner. I’m making your favorite.”

Marcy held her hand over her heart. We knew by the smell. Mexican-spiced beef brisket was in the oven. “Remind me why we live in Michigan?”

I snickered. “Because that’s where we’re anchored too.”

Marcy slammed her dresser drawer shut. “We’re adults now. I’m leaving whenever I feel like it.”

I smiled at her. “That’s the plan.”



Chapter Three




Lauren


“Why are we going for a walk on the beach? I’m tired,” Marcy whined as we crossed the street toward the tall, flowy grass separating the road from the sand.

“You didn’t have to come with me. I’ve been craving the feel of the sand between my toes since we left The Shore last year.”

Marcy smiled thoughtfully. “Nothing beats the sand from the Gulf of Mexico.”

Nothing beats the sand in general. I thought to myself. Even at the local ‘beach’ by the tiny lake in Harris I found some solace.

The sun was low, and I couldn’t wait to see the clear ocean water against the sunset. Maybe we’d get lucky and see dolphins playing in the waves.

We set out through the narrow path of sand wedged between the tall grasses. It was high, up to our waists. I couldn’t resist taking off my flip flops. Something about the sand between my toes made my mood shift from anxious to calm. The wind brushed against my face, pulling my hair in its direction. The closer to the shore we got, the gustier it became.

Reaching the end of the path, we were greeted with the solitude of the open sand, sea shells skewed amongst the tan ripples. It was cool to my feet with the setting sun and ocean breeze.

“Never gets old,” Marcy sang, twirling in a circle as though she were a ballerina, then falling on her back into the sand. Laughing, I sat beside her, burying my hands under the sand. It felt so good against my skin.

The waves were crashing against the shore, big, white caps bringing in new shells and stones, then swallowing them back into her depths. The sun made the blue of the ocean look purple, the sky becoming shades of pinks and oranges. It was hard to figure out where the land stopped and started. It was absolutely beautiful, and made my heart beat steadily with comfort and ease.

Sitting up, Marcy followed my gaze to the ocean. “The water is raging.”

I glanced at her and smiled. “Amongst other things.”

“You mean the kite surfer?” she asked.

I laughed. “No, I meant the sunset.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t more of them out there. It’s windy enough.”

My eyes moved from the sun to the kite surfer, watching him twist in the wind, his kite blowing and dipping with his movements. Curiosity filled me as I watched. He looked fit in his black neoprene shirt, his swim trunks matching. I gasped when he flew high in the air, flipping in a complete circle. “That’s insane!”

Marcy smirked, fluffing her hair. “If he can handle those waves, maybe he can handle me.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know him. For all you know he could be an asshole.”

“Or have a butter face,” she added.

I shook my head. “You’re crazy.”

“I wonder if those guys are with him?” She stood, dusting the sand from her legs and nodding in the direction of two guys in board shorts sitting closer to the water. “Let’s go say hi.”

That was Marcy, always keeping her eye open. She normally would wait for them to come to her, but I guess she was feeling aggressive.

Marcy loved having flings, and I always picked up the pieces when they didn’t work out. Secretly, she liked them to be short, hard, and devastating.

I was the opposite. I had my own forms of devastation, and adding heartbreak from a man wasn’t on my priority list.

Marcy smiled, putting on her charm as we approached them. I stood in her shadow, my eyes still on the kite surfer.

Soaring through the air and breaking through the waves seemed so natural to him. He was smooth as he weaved his body with the wind, controlling the massive black and white kite. His body was calm and collected in the angry sea, a talent most couldn’t grasp. I was hypnotized and entranced by him, and I hadn’t even spoken one word to him.

Marcy and the two other boys were chatting as he began gliding into the shore, the kite in the direction of the setting sun. He hopped off his board, letting go of the bar. My eyes widened in fear, thinking his kite would fly away, but then realized it was attached to his waist.

As I watched him come closer, I could see more of his features. His dark hair was wet and flipped to the side of his head. He didn’t have the traditional long surfer hair, but it wasn’t short either. He was tan, making me think he was native to the bright Alabama sun. His square jaw-line radiated masculinity, matching his broad shoulders and strong posture.

Then his eyes found mine, and I couldn’t look away. His mouth formed a thin line, his eyes squinting from the harsh breeze. The closer he came, the more my heart hammered. He was just as gorgeous out of the water as he was in it.

“Colt!” he shouted, frustration obvious in his tone.

One of the guys Marcy was talking to whipped his head toward the water, then ran the twenty feet to him. The kite surfer wasn’t happy with Colt. I thought he was going to smack him upside the head. After Colt was done being scolded, he ran to where the kite landed, helping the surfer get it in order while he un-hitched himself from the cords, fumbling with all the parts that were attached to the kite and his waistband.

“Hey, what’s your name?” the guy who was still chatting with Marcy asked.

Peeling my attention from the kite surfer, it took me a moment to answer him. He was about our age, cute with brown spikey hair and blue eyes. His skin wasn’t tan like the other two.

“Hi, I’m Lauren.”

“I’m Tucker.”

He looked me up and down, a mischievous grin on his face. “You gonna come tonight?”

My brows pinched together. What was he talking about?

Marcy nudged my side. “Of course she is.”

“Come where?” I asked, my eyes finding the surfer again.

Marcy giggled and twirled a piece of her dark hair between her fingers. “I guess there’s a new club on the beach by the pavilion where we used to hang out. They invited us to come with them.”

“Tonight?” I inwardly frowned. I wasn’t in the mood to be out partying. It was our first night here. I came to the ocean for some peace and tranquility, and to hopefully figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life, not to meet and hook up with guys. I was hoping Marcy would give me at least a few days to settle and enjoy The Shore.

“A local band is playing. They mainly do covers.” Tucker took a step closer to me. “You should come. It’ll be fun.”

He wasn’t being very subtle with the flirting. Marcy nodded her head encouragingly, her eyes pleading with me to say yes. “Colt will be there, what about your other friend?”

Marcy caught my gaze toward the kite surfer, catching on to my interest. I guess I was obvious with my infatuation.

Tucker’s eyes flicked toward the kite surfer. “Yeah, that’s Vance. He’ll be there.”

“Oh, Vance Everret? I didn’t even recognize him,” Marcy smiled, bringing her attention back to Tucker.

“The one and only,” Tucker said under his breath. He turned back to me. “So?”

“All right,” I conceded. “But not for long,” I whispered to Marcy.

She wiggled her eyebrows then glanced at Colt, who was still helping Vance with the giant kite. No doubt she was interested in him. He was tall, blond, and tan, totally her type. He most likely had blue eyes. Marcy had a thing for blond guys with blue eyes.

Colt looked up from the kite and winked at her, but soon went back to the kite after Vance had barked more orders at him.

Tucker stole my attention. “How long you here for?”

I shrugged my shoulders, not giving him an answer. I didn’t have a clue.

His smile turned into a smirk, his eyes becoming darker. I didn’t like the vibe he was sending me. Thankfully, Colt and Vance came over to change the mood.

Vance wasn’t exactly the mood changer I was looking for. “We need to go,” he was curt to Colt and Tucker.

Colt frowned at him then put his arm around Marcy’s shoulders. “Vance, this is Marcy and her friend—”

“Lauren,” Marcy answered quickly, realizing Colt didn’t remember. My eyes found the sand, then met Vance and his beautiful sea green eyes. He was staring at me intently, and I couldn’t look away. I gulped, crossing and uncrossing my arms while fidgeting my feet. His gaze made me nervous yet fascinated at the same time.

Marcy nudged me again, her brows crinkled. I wasn’t one to be frazzled in front of attractive guys.

“I invited them to come to The Hangout with us tonight.”

Vance’s gaze transferred from me to Colt. Neither of them speaking for what felt like minutes. Tucker managed to fill the gap.

“I can walk you there now while Vance and Colt freshen up,” Tucker offered.

“We’ll meet them there,” Vance barked, throwing the bag with his kite over his shoulder and slapping his board into Tucker’s stomach. Tucker let out an umph, leaning over his feet, nearly dropping the board in the process.

“We need to freshen up anyway,” Marcy mused. “See you in an hour or so?”

Colt gave her a wink and squeezed her closer to his side.

Vance cleared his throat, the signal for them to leave. Waving goodbye, they traveled down the beach along the water’s edge. Tucker carried Vance’s board, arguing with him. It was obvious Vance was their alpha.

“Did you see how hot Colt was?!” Marcy squealed on the way back to YaYa’s.

“I had a feeling you’d be into him.”

Marcy wrapped her arms around my neck from behind. “And you were flustered by Vance Everret.”

“No I wasn’t,” I scoffed, shrugging her from my shoulders. “How do you know him, anyway?”

“Right, explains why you turned into a heroin addict needing a fix the second he checked you out. Everyone has a crush on Vance Everret. I’m surprised you’re just now noticing him. We’ve ran into him before. It’s just been a long time and I couldn’t tell it was him at first.”

Crossing my arms as though I were cold, I shook my head, trying to convince myself she was wrong. I’d have remembered him. I blamed my out-of-character actions on the atmosphere, the salty air and sun-kissed breeze messing with my senses. It had nothing to do with the fact that Vance was the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen.

“Let me dress you up tonight.”

Stopping in my tracks, I gave Marcy a stern look. “No.”

“Come on!” she whined. “If you want to get Colby out of your head, you need to focus on someone else.”

Picking up my stride, I shook my head. “I need to focus on something, not one someone. I want to clear my head. Chasing a guy isn’t going to make my life less complicated.”

Marcy ran to catch up with me. “He’d be one hell of a distraction. I wouldn’t tell Colby.”

I rolled my eyes. “You know, Colby and I aren’t dating. We’ve yet to become a couple.”

Marcy snickered, “Right. You’ve just slept with him.”

My brows narrowed. “If you’re implying we’ve done the deed… you know that’s not true either.”

She wrapped her arm around my shoulder with a knowing grin. “I know. Fooling around doesn’t count, but it’s fun to tease you anyway.”



Chapter Four





Vance


Trolling wasn’t something I was in the mood for tonight, but Riley had sent me a message on my burner phone. He wanted to catch Marcus, my good-for-nothing father, and the filthy schemes he played, and I’d signed up to help. I wanted the son of a bitch to get slaughtered, too, I was tired of playing undercover asshole.

It’d been six months since I signed the paperwork to give my life over to the FBI, but it had felt like an eternity. Marcus wanted to expand his shady business, and I wasn’t going to let it happen.

But he was good at covering his tracks. Even I was going to have a hard time figuring out where the holes would be, but I was determined to bury that fucker for all of the pain and loss he’d caused throughout my lifetime.

“What did you think of those girls on the beach?” Colt asked, fixing his blond faux hawk, making the point perfect for the umpteenth time. His button down shirt was pressed and his cargo shorts held the necessary narcotics.

“The Hispanic girl is off limits,” I said curtly, leaning against the wall. I was exhausted from kite surfing and not in the mood to go hunting tonight.

Colt’s eyes flickered to mine through the mirror, his hands fluffing his collar now. “Does that mean I can make a move on her?”

“As long as she isn’t at the Nest tomorrow morning.” The Nest was where the prostitutes lived and trained to meet Marcus’s high demands.

Colt’s eyes lit up along with a wicked grin. “Good. I like the curvy ones.”

Marcus would have my ass if I brought him a Contreras. For whatever reason, she wasn’t allowed to be brought into his operation. Most likely because she was well known in the community. I knew some of her cousins because YaYa, her grandmother, had a huge family, but I’d never spent time with Marcy. Marcus was adamant I steered clear of YaYa Contreras’s blood. Most likely he was afraid of her, I knew I would never cross YaYa. She might be on the older side, but she had a mean presence. Knitted brows and crossed arms seemed to be permanent fixtures on the woman, not to mention she’d start muttering in Spanish whenever I came around. She always seemed to have a wooden spoon or some form of utensil that could do damage.

Tucker slid in from the back porch smelling of fresh tobacco, making his way down the hall to the bathroom he and Colt shared.

Both of them looked a hell of a lot better than when I’d found them on the streets of New Orleans. That’s where I always found our trollers.

Tucker was twenty-one, scrawny, and looked on the verge of death when I ran across him and his guitar on a street corner. Colt hadn’t been on the streets as long, but his eyes were sunken in with dark circles from lack of sleep as he slapped a drum next to Tucker. I threw a hundred dollar bill in Tucker’s guitar case, causing both of them to stop playing and stare, jaws slacked at the money. Squatting down to meet them at eye level, I told them there was more where that came from. Both boys have been my responsibility ever since.

Because that was my job, find the fishermen, teach them how to bait, then show them how to do the dirty work. The entire conspiracy disgusted me, but I had no choice. I’d grown up around the business, my conscious knowing the way Marcus worked wasn’t ethical, yet remained faithful to him. For my entire life’s mistakes, I’d be able to shut down Marcus for good.

“The blonde was a sight for sore eyes. I think I’ll save her for myself,” Tucker said.

The blonde… She caught my eye as well. What was her name?

“Lauren? She was a cutie. Not as sexy as Marcy. Damn.” Colt smirked into the mirror at his appearance, than winked at Tucker. “I want to hit that from behind. Wonder if she’s into spanking?”

Tucker grinned at Colt, fiddling with his spiky hair. “Twenty bucks says I nail Lauren before midnight.”

My eyes darkened as I watched them. This wasn’t a free fuck session. They needed to be careful where they put their cocks. “They’re off limits. You need to focus on finding other women.”

Tucker raised a brow. “On a Thursday night during off season? Place will be dead. It’s been way too long since my dick has gotten wet by a pussy I wanted. And you never said they were off-limits, only that we couldn’t bring them to the Nest.”

“She’s with Marcy. Therefore, she’s off-limits.” I pointed my finger at Colt. “Don’t do anything stupid with Marcy, either.”

Colt held his hands to his sides. “I just want to explore that fine, voluptuous body.”

I preferred how the blonde, Lauren, looked. Slender curves yet still held a womanly figure. She seemed innocent yet sexy. Maybe a touch young, but Marcus didn’t give a shit about age when it came to finding Doves. My stomach lurched. Finding a girl to use as bait for that might destroy her life, but would help me put Marcus away forever.

Standing behind Tucker, I crossed my arms, catching his eyes in the mirror. “Stay away from Lauren. Got it?”

Tucker stood tall, trying to size me up, but that was impossible. He was still skinny, and my six-foot-one inch frame and kite surfing arms could do damage. I wasn’t scared of his attempts to be intimidating.

“Why do you get her, huh? I called dibs.”

“That’s not how this works,” I said flatly. “I call the shots, remember?”

Tucker puffed out an irritated sigh, nudging my shoulder as he scuttled passed me. “And what about the guy who calls the shots for you? When do we get to meet him?”

Turning and following him to the kitchen of the apartment they shared, I let out a deep breath. “You won’t ever meet him.”

Colt moved behind me. “Why don’t we get to meet him?” Both of the young guys I brought into this nightmare situation were looking up to me with child-like eyes. What had I done to these poor souls? I’d turned them from starving delinquents to thugs and women catchers.

“Because the owner of drugs, guns, and a human trafficking operation doesn’t let anyone see his face.”

I’d purposely kissed Marcus’s ass to get into the new trafficking side of the business. It wasn’t easy, but he finally allowed me into the club, opening my eyes to more nightmares. I had yet to see the surplus of women for sale he’d been capturing. Guess I wasn’t allowed to until I brought in my first girl. The thought chilled me to the bones.

Colt turned pale while Tucker huffed. Colt had a conscious, Tucker… he might have been a lost cause to begin with.

“Human trafficking? All of the girls I’ve gotten to the Nest have come willingly. They want to be prostitutes. I thought trafficking was drug-induced and forced?”

I glared at him. “And the powder in your pocket doesn’t help them decide their fate?”

Colt fidgeted. “I’ve never had to use that stuff.”

It was there to entice the women. All trollers had Rohypnol for the timid, marijuana for the light-hearted, and an eight ball for the rowdy ones.

Tucker chuckled under his breath. “I use it every time. They never say no to any of my suggestions.”

Drugging the girls who came from out of town, with no family or self-esteem was their job, then convincing them the money and opportunities they could achieve by joining Marcus’s scheme was their last resort to life. Colt hadn’t brought as many girls in as Tucker, now I knew why.

Running my hands along the edge of the sink, I sighed. “Human Trafficking is the head honcho's goal.” Glancing between the two of them, I added, “If you can’t handle that, then I suggest you walk before leaving isn’t an option.”

Colt sat on the couch, scratching his head. His face was still pale, while Tucker only picked a piece of lint off of his cargo shorts. Colt might crack, and secretly, I hoped he would leave before I took down the entire operation. I liked him, and had hopes he’d get his shit together and leave. Because if he didn’t, he’d be in a cell block in a month’s time.





Chapter Five




Lauren


“Maybe they decided to stay home,” I shouted over the loud music.

Marcy wrinkled her nose and snapped her wrist at me.

Letting out a breath, I sipped my lemonade. It wasn’t very packed with people, in fact, we were the only two college-aged kids sitting on the deck. The place was nice enough, lights strung outside from post to post, a DJ booth along with a stage and outdoor dancing area. Picnic tables were scattered outside too, with odd beach games around the property.

Just as I was about to stand up to use the restroom, Vance zoomed in with Tucker and Colt on his heels. I sunk back in my chair, turning away from him. He was just as beautiful in gray surf shorts and a charcoal t-shirt as he was in his kite surfing suit, his dark hair disheveled as if he’d been sitting out in the beach wind all day.

Marcy’s brows knitted in my direction, then her sultry smile formed. She saw them and waved her hands in their direction. Colt greeted her with a side hug, taking the seat next to her, Tucker grabbing the one next to me. My back was tense, knowing Vance was standing behind me.

“Ladies, you found it,” Colt greeted, putting his arm on the back of Marcy’s chair.

“Wasn’t too hard to find.” Marcy batted her eyelashes at Colt, getting his grin to widen.

“I’m glad you came,” Tucker said, gently nudging my bicep with his elbow.

Giving him a weak smile, I shrugged my shoulders. He laughed at my seemingly light-hearted expression, then waved the waitress over.

Once the server came, her friendliness turned seductive as she gazed over the top of my head. No doubt she was meeting eyes with Vance. “What can I get you fellas? The usual?”

Tucker waved his finger in the air. “Yes, and five shots of Patron.”

The server barely looked his way. “You want your usual, Vance?”

“Only four shots, no liquor for me tonight.” His voice was deep and dominant behind me, causing a chill to creep up my spine. How could I be getting turned on by the tone of a man’s voice?

Regaining my focus, I began to stutter. “No shots for me, I’m not old—”

“Of course she wants one!” Marcy interjected, smiling yet somehow shooting me a glare at the same time. I met her stare, annoyed she was about to get shit-faced when we weren’t even legal. These guys must have been regulars for the server to not ask for our IDs.

The server glanced between Marcy and I, then shrugged and left to get the drinks from the bar.

“So, ladies, what’s on the agenda for your vacation?” Colt asked.

“Oh, you know, work on the tan, girl time, living like every day is going to be our last.” Marcy grinned, toying with the straw in her water.

“Sounds like a busy list. How long y’all staying in the lovely state of Alabama?”

Marcy aimed a delicate finger at me. “Whenever she says it’s time to pack the car.”

All eyes were on me, including Vance’s, who happened to slide to the front of the table, his arms crossed as he looked down at me. Those beautiful eyes made completing a sentence a very hard task to accomplish.

Tucker laughed, putting his arm on the back of my chair. “When were you thinking, Lauren?” His smile was friendly, but the gleam in his eye made me uncomfortable.

Crossing my arms and rubbing my biceps I answered. “Maybe a few weeks. I’m not sure. Nothing is really pressing me to get back home.”

Chancing a look around the table, everyone was staring at me intently, including Vance, looming over me at the bar top table. Were they waiting for me to say more?

“I mean, if I have no reason to go home, why not stay in paradise?” I added, reaching for my lemonade. I hated being the center of attention.

“I’d agree, the most southern part of Alabama is pretty spectacular. I’d love to take you to some tourist attractions sometime,” Tucker smiled, leaning closer to me.

“I’ve seen most of them,” I answered quickly, finding myself cowering away from him. I didn’t realize how close I was getting to Vance while trying to move away from Tucker, until the scent of his sporty cologne entered my nostrils. I closed my eyes and inhaled a deep breath. It smelled so good, causing me to lose my train of thought.

“Lauren’s right, we’ve been coming here for Spring Break since we were in grade school.”

“I’m surprised you ladies are here in May. Not up for the Spring Break crowd?” Colt asked. “I mean, I assume you ladies are in college, or have you graduated?”

“Still in college,” Marcy added. I wondered if she would tell him she was only taking a few online classes and living with her parents, versus a full load and living in campus dorms.

“Both of you?” Tucker asked, his arm dangerously close to my back. My body felt crooked from trying to gain my space from him.

“I’m not in college,” I answered truthfully. I wasn’t like Marcy; I couldn’t lie to save my life.

Tucker shrugged his shoulders. “That’s all right. I never bothered with college either.”

“What do you do then?” I blurted. None of them seemed to be boys who lived with their parents. They were well put together, too.

Vance answered. “They work for me. I own The Surf Shop on the west side of Orange Beach.”

How fitting, the kite surfer had his own business. It made sense, he seemed older and more mature than both Colt and Tucker.

“Oh, we should go check it out sometime when you’re working,” Marcy said, batting her eyes at Colt.

His smile lit up in response. “That would be great. You ever surf?”

Marcy shook her head. You’d never know she was terrified of the ocean. She didn’t like the life under the sea.

“I’d love to give you a lesson while you’re here,” Colt offered.

Tucker nodded. “Yeah, Lauren, I can teach you, too.”

“I think Lauren is more interested in kite surfing.” Marcy glanced at me then to Vance.

Colt nodded toward Vance. “That’s Vance’s territory.”

I was afraid to look at him. I could feel his penetrating eyes waiting for me to turn my head and face him. Damn it, Marcy!

“I could show her,” Tucker quickly jumped into the conversation. “It’s not that difficult.”

Vance snorted.

“Oh, right,” Colt smirked. “You cried like a baby when the wind took you twenty feet in the air.”

Tucker’s eyes narrowed at Colt. “No, I didn’t. My arm hit a piece of coral on the way down. Hurt like a bitch.”

Colt laughed. “Hurt so bad, it didn’t leave a mark.”

Tucker glared at Colt while everyone laughed. I, on the other hand, felt bad. I didn’t like when others were uncomfortable. Even if I wasn’t interested in winning his affection. No one deserved to feel like they were being bullied.

“You don’t have to teach me,” I said nonchalantly.

“No, he doesn’t. Vancy can,” Colt breathed, needing to take a deep breath from laughing at Tucker.

Biting my lip, I glanced at Vance. His face was expressionless as he watched me.

His look made me hold my breath.

“Lauren and I will have to look at our schedule. We want to work on our tan lines,” Marcy flirted, her gaze fixed on Colt.

“Now that, I can help you with,” Tucker touched the middle of my back with his finger. I straightened like an arrow, leaning into the table.

Thankfully, the server was back with their drinks to change the subject.

“Here you all go! Corona’s with lime wedges for my favorite gentlemen and their guests.” The waitress gave Vance an extra-long smile while handing him the beer. “And five shots. Brought you one just in case, Vance.” She wiggled her brows at him, but his face remained stone cold, giving her a stiff nod. She wasn’t happy with his response. Her face contorted as if she swallowed something sour, then stormed back to the bar.

“Well ladies, after these shots, I’m afraid we need to move around a bit,” Vance gave both Tucker and Colt hard looks. “We have some work to do.”

Colt removed his hand from behind Marcy to grab the shot, causing her to pout her lips. She was looking forward to spending time with him. I was thankful. Maybe we would be out of here within a half hour.

“I think work can wait a little while,” Tucker sneered, meeting Vance’s stare. Keeping his arm resting on the back of my stool, he continued talking. “These ladies need some company.”

“One. Shot.” Vance’s voice was low, a warning for Tucker.

Tucker glared at him, then took the shot. Licking his lips, he stood from the bar stool along with Colt. Softening his expression from his interaction with Vance, he met my gaze. “I’ll be back. Don’t wander off without saying goodbye.”

My lip quivered as I tried to smile. Spending time with him wasn’t on my top ten list of things to do for the evening. Vance only offered a nod, then led both men across the bar and through a secluded door.




Chapter Six




Vance


“What was that about?” Tucker complained the second we stepped foot into the back room. “No one in this bar is as qualified to bring back to the Nest, and you’re ruining our chances with those chicks!”

Shoving him against the wall, I got in his face, towering over his scrawny stature. I didn’t like to use my intimidation skills often, but when the hunting party started to step out of line, it was a must. “I told you—off-limits. I’ll deal with her.”


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