I’ll be fine,my ass.
Bridget’s words, spoken with such confidence a month ago, had come back to bite her, and by extension me, in the proverbial behind. After looking into the concert venue, I’d expressly told her not to attend the performance, which took place in some sketchy warehouse that should’ve been shut down for breaking a thousand and one safety code regulations. The building was one strong gust of wind away from collapsing.
Yet Bridget had gone against my orders and snuck out in the middle of the night to attend the damn concert, only to get kidnapped afterward.
That was right. Fucking kidnapped by a mercenary who’d grabbed her and Ava off the street.
It wasn’t even the concert that pissed me off. If Bridget had insisted on going, I would’ve gone with her, because she was the client. I couldn’t physically restrain her from doing what she wanted.
No, I was pissed about the fact she’d gone behind my back and the whole kidnapping incident could’ve been avoided had she been honest with me.
I glanced in the rearview mirror to reassure myself Bridget was still there. As furious as I was, the sight of her in the backseat, bruised but safe, eased some of the icy terror that had gripped me since I woke up and realized she was gone.
Luckily, I’d had the foresight to plant a secret tracking chip in her phone a few weeks earlier, and it’d led me to Philadelphia, where I found her and Ava tied up and at the mercy of a gunman for hire. The whole situation resulted from a long, sordid saga involving Alex Volkov, Alex’s psycho uncle who’d kidnapped Ava as leverage against his nephew, and years of secrets and revenge.
I honestly didn’t give a shit about the drama. All I’d cared about was getting Bridget out of there safely, and I had, if only so I could tear her apart with my own hands.
“Ava’s staying with us tonight.” Bridget smoothed a hand over her friend’s hair, her brow knit in a worried frown. “I don’t want her to be alone.”
Ava lay curled up in her lap, her sobs softer than before but still frequent enough to make me wince. I had no clue what to do around crying people, especially ones whose now ex-boyfriend confessed to lying to her during their entire relationship to get revenge on the man he’d thought had murdered his family. And that was only the CliffsNotes version of what had happened.
It was fucked-up shit, but Alex Volkov had always been a little fucked up in an I might murder you if I’m in a bad mood kind of way. At least everyone was alive…except for his uncle and the gunman.
“Fine.” The word ricocheted through the car like a bullet.
Bridget flinched, and a small kernel of guilt took root in my stomach. It wasn’t enough to drown out my anger, but it was enough to make me feel like an asshole as I pulled up in front of her house. She’d been through hell, and I should let her sleep off the events of the past twenty-hours first before I laid into her.
Keyword: should. But I’d never cared much about what I should do. What mattered was what I needed to do, and I needed Bridget to understand she couldn’t fuck around with my rules. They were there to protect her, dammit, and if anything happened to her…
Fresh terror stabbed at me.
We entered the house, and I waited until Ava retreated to Bridget’s room before I jerked my head to my right. “Kitchen. Now.”
Bridget wrapped her arms around her chest. Another wave of anger crashed over me at the sight of the raw, reddened skin where the ropes had dug into her wrists.
If the mercenary weren’t already dead, I’d carve him up myself, and I would take a longer, sweeter time than Alex had.
She walked into the kitchen and busied herself making a cup of tea, avoiding my gaze the entire time.
“Everything worked out,” she said in a small voice. “I’m okay.”
A vein pulsed in my temple. “You’re okay,” I repeated. It came out as a snarl.
We stood five feet from each other. Me in the doorway, my fists clenched at my sides; Bridget by the sink, her hands wrapped around her mug and her eyes huge in her pale face. Her usual cool, regal demeanor had disappeared, stripped bare by the events of the past twenty-four hours, and I detected a slight tremble in her shoulders.
“I made a mistake, but—”
“A mistake?” Fire scorched my veins, searing me from the inside out. “A mistake is showing up at the wrong class. A mistake is forgetting to lock the door when you leave the house. It’s not getting kidnapped and almost killed by a psycho because you snuck out like a high schooler breaking curfew. I’d say that was more than a mistake.”
My voice rose with each word until I was yelling. I’d never lost my cool with a client before, but Bridget had an uncanny ability to wring every emotion out of me, good and bad.
“It’s not like I wanted to get kidnapped.” Some of the fire returned to Bridget’s eyes. “The concert was perfectly safe, despite what you said. It was only after…” She took a deep breath. “They weren’t targeting me. They targeted Ava, and I happened to be with her. It could’ve happened at any time.”
The vein in my temple pulsed harder. “No. It couldn’t have happened anytime.” I stalked toward her, my mouth flattening with grim pleasure when I saw her eyes widen in fear. Good. She should fear me, because I was about to rain hell all over her naive little parade. “Do you want to know why?”
Bridget wisely chose not to answer. For every step I took forward, she took one back until her back pressed against the wall, her white-knuckled hands strangling her mug.
“Because I would’ve been there,” I hissed. “I don’t give a flying fuck whether you, Ava, or fucking Big Bird was the target. If I’d been there, I would’ve neutralized the asshole before he ever laid a hand on you.” It wasn’t arrogance; it was the truth. There was a reason I was Harper Security’s most in-demand agent, and it wasn’t my personality. “What did I tell you when we first met?”
Bridget didn’t respond.
“What. Did. I. Tell. You?” I planted my forearm on the wall above her head and my hand by the side of her face, effectively caging her in. We were so close I could smell her perfume—something subtle and intoxicating, like fresh flowers on a summer day—and see the dark ring around her pupils. I’d never seen eyes like that before, so deep and blue it was like staring straight into the depths of the ocean. They were the kind of eyes that lured you in and sucked you under before you knew what was happening.
The fact I noticed those stupid things in the middle of the worst day of my career only pissed me off more.
“Do what you say, when you say it.” A hint of defiance tempered her whisper.
“That’s right. You didn’t, and you almost died.” If I hadn’t gotten there when I had…My blood iced over. Alex had been there, but that crazy fucker was as liable to shoot Bridget as he was to save her. “Do you know what could’ve—” I stopped mid-sentence. I was yelling again. I clenched my jaw and forced myself to take a deep breath. “I know you think I’m overbearing and paranoid, but I don’t say ‘no’ because I want to torture you, princess. I want to protect you, and if you keep defying me at every turn, you’re gonna get yourself and those around you killed. Is that what you want?”
“No.” The defiance was still there, but I didn’t miss the suspicious sheen in Bridget’s eyes or the slight wobble in her chin.
Tough love worked, and she needed a big heap of it.
Still, I softened the harsh edge of my voice when I spoke next.