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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

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He ignored the dancers and cut across the dance floor, taking the shortest route to my side. “Someday,” he said. He took my hand and gazed at me with such longing it made me tremble.

“Someday you will make a beautiful bride.” My heart skipped a beat or two, but before I could think about his words—before I could process them, or even allow myself to wonder if he truly meant what I hoped he meant—he’d swept me onto the dance floor as well, and we were lost in the music and the crowd and the gaiety of the moment.

Happy. Such a simple word, but it packed so much punch. That was how I felt with Cole.

There were so many other emotions as well, of course.

Desire, lust, need, discovery, hunger, tenderness. And on and on.

But at the core, he made me happy, and the thought was so huge, so powerful, that it propelled me through the rest of the evening.

I was still grinning foolishly hours later, after the cake had been eaten and the stretch limo had whisked Evan and Angie away to begin their fantasy honeymoon. I was standing there, hugging myself near the champagne fountain when Damien and Nikki came up to say goodbye.

“I wish we could stay longer,” Nikki said. “We’d love to spend more time with you and Cole, and I’ve barely seen any of Chicago. But maybe some other time.” “We’d love it,” I said sincerely.

Damien gave me a kiss on the cheek, and I noticed the looks of awe and jealousy from some of the other female guests who’d been surreptitiously taking photos with their phones all evening.

“You better be careful,” I said wryly, “or that’s going to end up on Facebook.” “If there’s gossip, it must be Tuesday,” Nikki said, then tilted her head to indicate Damien. “He got used to it long ago. I’m finally getting to the point where it doesn’t feel like I live in a fishbowl.

Or, more accurately, I’m starting to feel like a fish who can ignore everything outside the bowl.” I laughed, but I couldn’t help but think that I had it lucky with Cole. Yes, he made the Chicago papers frequently, and yes, I’d undoubtedly be included in those pictures from now on, but his celebrity was limited to Chicago. Nikki and Damien were recognized all over the world, and god forbid they were caught up in any sort of scandal because then there was nowhere to hide.

Frankly, I liked my side of the coin better.

“Have you seen Cole?” Damien asked.

“All evening, and usually right beside me,” I said. “He pulled Tyler aside a few minutes ago. I think I saw them go down toward the water.” As they left to finish their goodbyes, I searched out Mrs.

Raine to get my post-wedding marching orders. A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse of Cole and Damien talking near the edge of the pavilion. Apparently Damien had more to say than goodbye, because Cole didn’t look particularly happy.

I was about to go ask what was going on—and if I needed to be concerned about my dad—when Mrs. Raine pulled me in to deal with the caterers and the florist. I hesitated, but I also knew that Cole wouldn’t do anything to put my dad in danger—or to let him stay there if danger had found him.

By the time I finished my post-wedding maid of honor duties, the crowd had thinned considerably, and I was ready to go, too. I still wanted to know what Damien and Cole had been talking about, but I could wait until we were in the car to ask.

The only problem was that I couldn’t find Cole.

This wasn’t a crisis at first —he’s a grown man and there were still enough people lingering at the reception that he could easily have gotten pulled aside to talk with a friend. But after more than a half hour passed I started to get truly fidgety.

“Not for at least an hour,” Tyler said when I asked if he’d seen Cole.

“He was talking with Damien, and neither one looked happy. Do you know if something happened?” “Not that I know of,” Tyler said. “I know there was trouble in the gallery in LA a few days ago—some kids in Malibu throwing rocks through windows. Could be that.” I frowned. Could be, but it didn’t feel right. “At any rate, I’ve lost him. If you see him, tell him to track me down.” “You’ve texted him?” I nodded. “But he probably forgot to turn his phone off silent.” “Maybe he went to the catering office,” Sloane suggested as Tyler left to go talk with someone he recognized. “Someone actually delivered documents to a wedding, so they were probably important.” “What are you talking about?” “You didn’t see the messenger? About twenty minutes ago, I think. Maybe he needed to sign something and fax it back.” I frowned, then went to find the woman on staff who was our assigned coordinator.

She called back to the office, but was told that Cole wasn’t there, and hadn’t been there all day.

“Well, he has to be around somewhere,” Sloane said, but I was getting a bad feeling.

“I’m going to go see if the Range Rover is here,” I said.

Sloane lifted a brow.

“Don’t be absurd. He wouldn’t leave you without a ride.” “I have a ride. You’re here, aren’t you?” She frowned, but didn’t argue. She also didn’t say anything else until we got to the parking lot and found the space where he’d parked the Range Rover empty.

“Well,” Sloane said.

“That’s fucked up.” twenty-four The benefit of Sloane being a former cop and now working for the knights’ investigative company was that she had access to the tracking system on Cole’s Range Rover. Not only that, but the system was accessible through a webbased app, and Sloane kept her laptop, camera, and other tools of the trade in the trunk of her Lexus.

“Force of habit,” she said with a shrug as she fired up the computer and logged in.

We were sitting in the car, and I was watching the screen, tapping my foot because it wasn’t booting up quickly enough to soothe my nerves.

When the program was finally up and running, I was just as frustrated. It was gibberish to me, at least until Sloane made a few adjustments and shifted the specs into map mode. She tapped her finger on a purple dot blinking on the screen.

“South Side.” She caught my eye. “Pretty deep in, too. And the vehicle’s not moving.” “Deep in,” I repeated, looking at the lines that represented streets in neighborhoods I’d never seen, and wasn’t sure I wanted to. “You mean gang areas?” “That’s what I mean.” I told myself not to freak, but I can’t say that I was doing a very good job listening to myself. “Well, okay, then. That’s where I’m going.” “That’s where we’re going,” Sloane said, and started the car.

“Tyler?” I asked, and in response she tapped the button on her steering wheel to connect the speakerphone.

His voicemail answered, and she glanced at me with a shrug. “He’s mingling,” she said. “And, no, he’s not going to be happy about us going into gang territory without him. But I have years of homicide under my belt and a Glock in the glove box. Your call, though. If you want to wait, we wait.” I shook my head. “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve already waited too long.” I couldn’t shake my growing fear that something had gone horribly wrong. I just couldn’t understand what.

“Then I’ll deal with Tyler later.” She shot me a grin as she floored it out of the parking lot. “If he’s pissed, that just means I have great make-up sex to look forward to.” “Since you put it that way,” I said, then grabbed for my seat belt, figuring that would up my odds of surviving our quest to find Cole.

Even with Sloane behind the wheel it took more than forty-five minutes to reach the Fuller Park intersection where we found Cole’s Range Rover smashed into a newspaper machine that may or may not have already been battered in a crumpled metallic heap.

“Shit.” Sloane reached into the glove box for her gun, then tucked it into her small beaded bag. It didn’t fit, and the grip extended from the flap of the bag.

I raised an eyebrow.

She shrugged in reply. “In this neighborhood, I’m not worried about having it concealed. Come on. Let’s go take a look at the car. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’s sleeping off a bender in the backseat.” I didn’t believe it, but it was something to hope for, so I followed her out. Across the street, two heroin-thin guys called out from where they sat on the curb in front of a battered brick building that I think was a bar, though I wouldn’t swear to it. Their words were slurred and they seemed less than interested in approaching us. Frankly, I considered that a good thing.

There was a bench a few feet down from where the Rover had plowed into the newspaper machine, and I realized this was a bus stop.

A burly guy in a filthy wifebeater with an arm covered in gang tats sat there, taking long sips from something concealed by a brown paper bag. He was turned toward us, but I couldn’t see where he was looking because the black shades hid his eyes. Even so, I was certain that we were the object of his attention, and I kept a cautious eye on him while Sloane peered into Cole’s vehicle.

His head never moved, his position never shifted. But he smiled slowly, revealing a row of gold-capped teeth that glinted in the fading light of the setting sun.

Honestly, I was glad for the gun.

“Anything?” I asked, hoping Sloane heard my silent plea to hurry it up.

“Not a thing,” she said.

She tried the door and found it unlocked. She tugged it open, peered in, and looked at me. “Whatever the messenger brought him, he either has it on him or he left it at the wedding.” Our gold-toothed friend got up and sauntered toward us. “You need help, Goldilocks? What’s the matter? One of the three bears stand you up for prom?” I made a face, scowling down at the formal dress I still wore. “Something like that,” I admitted.

“Kat.” Sloane’s voice held a note of warning, and I knew that she was reminding me that this guy might just as soon kill me as look at me.

I straightened my shoulders and cocked my head, forcing myself to appear confident as I looked at him. “You offering to give us a hand?” “Depends. I’ll tell you this much on the house—if you white bitches be looking for the motherfucker who trashed that nice set of wheels, you be looking in the wrong place.” “You know where he is?” I asked.

“I know where he ain’t.

He ain’t around here no more, that’s for damn sure. But the mo-fo did some serious damage to my block here before he kicked it into gear.” “Damage,” Sloane repeated. “You mean wrecking his car into the newspaper machine?” “Fuck no. That car barely tapped it. I mean taking his tire iron out and beating the shit out of that thing,” he said, waving at the crumpled hunk of metal that once had dispensed newspapers.

I caught Sloane’s eyes. I still didn’t know what had worked Cole up, but if he’d gone postal on the machine, I knew that it was worse than I’d thought.

“Did you see where he went? Did he walk away?

Call somebody? Catch a cab?” He laughed, and it wasn’t a nice sound. “Shit, bitch.

You think this be fucking New York City? Folks just step into the street and wave down a cab? You need to go back to the fairy tale you came from.” “Maybe I do,” I said. “So you tell me. What happened?

Where’d he go?” “Why should I tell some blond bitch comes asking around about a brother?” “I’m his girlfriend.” “The hell you say. Your tiny princess ass couldn’t handle that motherfucker.” “My tiny princess ass has mad skills,” I said. “Now where the fuck did he go?” “Lady got balls,” he said with a nod that might have indicated respect. “No idea where he blew off to, but he tossed three grand at my boy Kray and bought himself a nice new bike right out from under my boy. Sweet set of wheels. Could be anywhere by now.” “He’s right,” Sloane said.

“Without the GPS, we’re flying blind.” “So where would he go?” I ran my fingers through my hair.

“I don’t know,” Sloane said. “Why did he come here?

Because it was home?” “Maybe. Let me think.” We took a moment to thank our informant, who actually pulled the gentleman card and told us to get our lily-white asses out of there because it was getting dark, and the next mo-fo we met might want more than to talk about my crazy-ass boyfriend.

Since that seemed like a good idea, we got back in Sloane’s Lexus and headed back toward the highway.

“Wait,” I said, and Sloane slowed to a reasonable speed as I dialed Bree in Los Angeles.

I’d hoped that she’d heard from him, but when she said that she hadn’t, I asked her to tell me the address of the house he grew up in.

“Is everything okay?” “I hope so,” I said honestly, then promised to call her with an update as soon as I knew anything.

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