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THE DANGEROUS THIEF: Chapter One
Willa jerked awake and stared in horror at the desolate sight outside the window. “Where are we?” Everything flooded back. The disastrous attempt to ask Matt Forbes for help, tracking down Melody Murray, and then the being handed off here. Wherever here was.
The view outside the window was scattered trees and foliage. Nothing to give her any indication of where her strange driver was taking her. She glanced over at the said driver of the truck. The man she’d met less than a day ago. And by met, she meant she was handed off to him by a solemn Adam.
The man next to her was big enough to more than fill up the roomy front cab of the large pickup truck. And by big, she sure as hell didn’t mean fat. He seemed to be all muscle and strength and silence. Lots and lots of silence. As in he still hadn’t told her where they were.
“I asked you a question.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye before he put his attention back on the road. “I thought you were talking in your sleep again.”
Again? Fantastic. As if this whole situation wasn’t mortifying enough. And considering the nightmares she’d been having, she didn’t want to think about what she’d been saying. “So?”
This guy couldn’t really be this dumb. He had to be doing this on purpose to annoy her. “So where are we?”
“Texas?” Willa looked out the window at the trees and grass. Not exactly the image of Texas she had in her mind. “Aren’t there supposed to be cattle and oil fields everywhere? I’ve never been to Texas before. No real reason. I think the last time I counted, I’ve been to forty of the fifty states, but I guess I’ll have to recount. Have you ever been to Texas before?” Willa knew she was rambling on, but she didn’t really know what else to do. Talking was her default setting and she’d been cooped up in this truck for almost twenty hours now with the most boring of boring jugheads next to her. She wanted to go back to sleep, but considering the nightmares… “Maybe we should get a steak or something while we’re here? I don’t think I can use my credit card to pay for it, but I have a little cash. I can treat you to a dinner. I mean, you’re not the most polite company, but I do appreciate what you’re doing for me.”
“I’m not doing it for you.”
He speaks! Figured some of his few words would be rude and dismissive. She adjusted her place in her seat to stare at James Weston. He drove with both hands on the wheel. The bright Texas sun made his eyes seem more green than brown. His strong jawline was unshaven and Willa wasn’t sure whether that was because he’d been too busy with her or the look he was going for. His hair was a sandy-blond that was almost the same color as his tan skin.
Any other time, she’d be thrilled to be in such close quarters with someone this smoking hot. Of course, in most other circumstances, someone this smoking hot would also be excited to be alone with her.
Not that she had a high opinion of her looks. Well, she did. She worked damn hard in the gym to keep herself small enough to fit in sample sizes from designers and she spent a fortune at the salon in the club her family had joined to make sure her hair, skin, and nails were all perfect. Her carefully cultivated image fit into any situation, be it a high-society party or the elite club scene in Chicago. Her hair was her natural brown color, with some subtle blonde and red highlights that gave a lot of dimension to the shoulder-length wavy locks and her dark-brown eyes could become extra dramatic when she did her trademark smoky eye.
But she was smart enough to know that her looks alone weren’t why she was always the center of men’s attention. Everyone back home knew who she was. As Jadon Belli’s daughter, when she walked into a room, people paid attention. Money always got attention.
She was willing to bet that James Weston didn’t give a damn about her money. Which was good, because at the moment she didn’t have much to offer.
“So why are you helping me then?”
“I owe Melody a favor.”
“What do you owe her for?” Willa knew very little about Melody Murray, but she’d put a hundred percent of her faith in the stranger to keep her safe. Which led to her trusting Adam Smith to keep her safe. Which led to her trusting James Weston to keep her safe.
Needless to say, she was feeling less and less safe by the second.
Willa had first met Melody only a few days ago, but those few seconds had left an impression. She had been in the middle of trying to get her father to see reason when something had caught her attention. A flash of movement in her father’s office. And not a secretary or associate looking for a moment alone with the high-powered executive. A thief walking off with his laptop.
Under normal circumstances, she would’ve alerted security or called the cops, but current circumstances at her home were anything but normal. The one thing she needed more than anything was someone who wasn’t on her father’s side.
And now that she found her allies, she was at a loss. She thought Melody would be able to help her come up with a game plan and figure out a way to make her father pay for his crimes, but Melody had her own problems and instead, Willa had been shipped off with this guy.
James Weston. To keep her safe, which she agreed with, he told her he was taking her to his compound in the Arizona desert. She thought it would be a two- or three-day road trip, but Weston was like a machine. He had been driving straight through, only stopping every few hours for gas or the bathroom. And no fast food or anything. Just snacks from the gas station.
And not normal junk food, like chips or candy. Only peanuts and jerky. Though she supposed someone with biceps that big would need a lot of protein to keep that up.
Willa lived on a regimented diet that consisted of a lot of lettuce and egg whites, but she wasn’t about to touch the wilted-looking iceberg salad in the cooler of the gas station they’d stopped at, so she’d gone to the complete other end of the spectrum and grabbed some Ding Dongs.
She might be stuck in a car with a guy who hated her and running for her life from her own father, but at least she’d have a sugar high.
Weston didn’t answer her question about Melody. Instead, he asked, “What can you tell me about Jadon Belli?”
She blinked a few times at the general question. “I can tell you almost everything. His favorite breakfast, the car he drives, the guilty pleasure reality TV he DVRs but won’t admit to.”
“We can safely assume I don’t care about that.”
“Then ask me the question you really want to know.” Maybe her attitude was uncalled for, but her muscles were cramping and Weston had gone from ignoring her to grilling her and she couldn’t help her snark.
“You came to us asking for help. You were genuinely afraid of him. People usually don’t run from family unless there is something bad going down. Now, if you want me to keep protecting you, I expect you to be honest with me. Full disclosure.”
Full disclosure. She didn’t think she’d ever be able to promise this stranger that. But he was right. If he was going to be taking her into his home, or whatever he’d meant when he said compound, she did owe him the truth. The truth she hadn’t been able to tell anyone else.
Logically, she didn’t think it was possible that Weston was working with her father, but it was still hard for her to get the words out. If Jadon Belli ever found out that his own daughter was working against him, she didn’t know what he’d do. She hated to think that he would hurt her, but she wasn’t naive enough to think that was off the table.
“I need help because I saw him do something horrible.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“I saw him kill someone, okay?” Willa winced as she got the words out. Saying it out loud had her replaying the memory over in her mind. It was so surreal, she had to wonder whether she’d hallucinated the whole thing. Her father had always been a dick, but never threatening in any way. To see him cross that line as if it were no big deal at all had been a moment she could never push under a rug or pretend didn’t happen. It was a selfish way to think about it, but that moment had changed her entire life.
“Were there any other witnesses? Video? Anything we can take to the cops?”
Willa rolled her eyes and threw her head back onto the seat. All very basic questions, but the answers didn’t matter. “No solid evidence, but the real kicker is that my dad practically funds the Chicago police department and all the politicians in the city. There is no one in their right mind who would prosecute him for anything.”
Weston nodded and didn’t say anything.
“So what does that mean for us? Do you think you can help me? Am I shit out of luck? Are you going to abandon me on the side of the road? Because I’m freaking out here and I don’t know what to do. If Daddy finds me here, I don’t know what he’d do to me. I mean, I know what he’d do to you if you were working against him, but I really don’t know where his limits are. So how are we supposed to fight someone like that?”
“You talk a lot,” said Weston.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious. I happen to be nervous. I talk a lot when I’m not nervous and I happen to be fucking terrified right now so pardon me if I happen to be talking too much. I’d hate to be an inconvenience for you.”
He was quiet for a moment. She didn’t really want him to apologize to her or anything; she just wished he’d interact with her in some way so she didn’t feel as if she were driving with a robot.
Then he finally spoke again. “You’re not inconveniencing me.”
Well, it wasn’t an apology, but it was better than nothing.
“But,” he added, “if you want to take down a guy like Jadon Belli, it’s not going to be easy.”
“I never said—”
“And if you want me to help you, I will. Mainly because Melody and her family have a vested interest in getting this guy and they’re willing to bankroll me to help. But it’s not going to be fun or clean. If anyone is going to be inconvenienced here, it’s going to be you.”
Yeah. She was starting to get that.