By: Joanna Blake


“Do you usually go without eating for so long?”

I was chewing on the surprisingly good turkey sandwich the agent had brought me. He was being oddly nice to me. The guy seemed decent, for the law.

Being a runaway had taught me not to trust the law.

Living with Mason had just reinforced that over the years.

“No. It was busy tonight.”

Shit. Say nothing Cass! Say nothing!

But that wasn’t really much of a clue. Still, the less I said the better. I needed to be smart if I wanted to keep Mason alive.

Never mind myself.

I knew with a heavy certainty that I only had a slim chance to escape Dante’s wrath. The fact that he’d let me walk out of that parking lot at all was the only reason I wasn’t running for the damn border.

That and the guy sitting across from me.

He watched me eat, playing with a pen with one hand. I caught myself staring at his hand. It was tanned and thick, but still graceful. It looked… strong. Like he worked outdoors with his hands.

He’d taken his jacket off, trying to get me to wear it again. It felt too intimate to take it so I’d shook him off, even though I was cold.

Without the jacket I could see just how fit the agent was. Not just fit, either. He was buff. His muscles had muscles. But he didn’t look like a meathead.

He was just… perfect.

I squinted my nose and popped another potato chip in my mouth. Ugh, stop mooning over the enemy, Cass! He didn’t rush me to finish my meal. Just stared at me with those deep blue green eyes.

For a minute, I wondered if this was part of the interrogation. Maybe he was trying to unsettle me with his good manners. I’d have to ask Mason later. Conner was being so nice.

Too nice.

Maybe all of this would end up in a report later. In a permanent file. Subject snarfed potato chips like a little piggy. Subject has questionable footwear. Subject has body odor.

I took a little sniff under my shirt, suddenly afraid that I did smell.

Maybe that’s why he kept giving me his jacket.

I pushed the tray away abruptly. I had eaten almost every damn bite. Even the little carton of chocolate milk.

Jeez, did the guy think I was five years old or something?

I sat up straighter, suddenly annoyed at being treated like a kid. The truth was though, I did love my chocolate milk.

“So. How long have you worked at The Jar?”

I stared at him, trying to think of a reasonable lie. Then I gave up. If it was illegal to have me working there at sixteen, so be it.

“When I was fifteen.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Mason put you to work, huh?”

“I wanted to work. I don’t like charity.”

“Seems like a rough spot for a teenage girl.”

I raised my chin and stared at him.

“I’ve seen worse.”

We held each other’s eyes. Something flickered in his richly colored gaze. It seemed like he almost felt sorry for me. Then he smiled.

“That’s too bad.”

I blinked. He meant it. My gut was screaming at me that this guy was the real deal. He wasn’t just playing good cop. Why did that make me feel so safe?

I rubbed my eyes, suddenly tired. The adrenaline from earlier must be wearing off. I yawned and he smiled at me again.

He stood and jerked his head towards the door.

“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”


The truth was, I should have kept her a few more hours. I had more pictures to show her. And I wanted to break her, get to the bottom of this.

My partner’s life demanded it. Or the life he should have had. Would have had, if not for the local scum.

So why the hell didn’t you, Conn?

I was getting soft. That must be it. A pretty girl, a pair of big eyes with long legs and I was toast.

Soggy toast that had been slathered in warm butter.

Soft. Weak. But at the moment, I didn’t much care.

I was too busy enjoying her company in the quiet intimacy of the car. It was like a cocoon, separate from reality. I glanced over and resisted the urge to stretch out a hand, to let my finger drag over her skin.

I could probably have gotten away with it. Just one touch to see if her skin was as impossibly soft as it looked. Just her cheek.

No one would ever know. Not even her.

The delicate looking girl beside me had fallen asleep.

She looked even younger in her sleep, and my protective instincts were in overdrive. I didn’t just want to take her home safely tonight. I didn’t even just want to kiss her, and everything that came after.

I wanted to protect her.

To keep her safe.

And considering the world I’d plucked her out of, that was far from easy.

But that wasn’t the strangest part. I shook my head, keeping my eyes on the road. The strangest part was how awake I felt. How alive.