Chapter 1 The Psychopath

Fiona

"Last question, Mr. Jameson. Is anything you just told me true?"

His eyes shifted as he rolled his tongue piercing against the roof of his mouth. "No."

He thought he was getting away with lying during his psych evaluation, but he also didn't know who he was dealing with. "All right then." I placed my pen on top of my notes. "I think I have all the information I need to make an assessment."

After three hours of bald-faced lying to me, he was unrepentant and smug. Definitely not the kind of man my boss would want working at Knight Security.

The long chain connected to his wallet in his pocket jangled as he stood and turned his back on me. I had to admit those worn-out Levis looked good on him. His black T-shirt covered the top half but he had long, solid legs and a great ass.

He tossed on his denim jacket and took two steps toward the door before he stopped. "I got a question for you, Doctor Doctor." He looked back over his shoulder and hit me with those blue-gray eyes I'd been struggling to read.

"Actually, I ask the questions, and I don't have any more for you." I looked down and started sorting papers. He was dismissed.

I heard his boots step back toward the desk, and I felt his violent energy slam into me. "You asked me all those questions, and I don't get to ask you one?"

I stared him in the eye. I would not let him intimidate me. "No."

"I think you wanna hear this question. It's very challenging. I bet you don't even know the answer." His taunting tone brought out my fighting instinct.

I crossed my arms over my chest. "I bet I do. Fine. Go ahead. Ask me."

His grin lit up his eyes. "Wanna bang?"

I sucked in a quick breath and held it to hide my shock. My stomach flip-flopped. Was he playing me again?

My intuition was sensing a blip of sincerity from the man who lied without blinking. How should I respond? If I said yes, we could be having meaningless sex on my office desk for the next forty minutes. I'd bet a man like him liked it rough and dirty. Could I handle that? What did he look like naked? Did those biomechanical tattoos on his neck and head lead all the way down to a giant…

Oh goodness. My legs shook and my thighs clenched.

As tempting as it sounded, and as long as my dry spell had been, I'd fallen for this kind of bad-boy act before, and I remembered how it felt afterward. The shame, embarrassment, and rejection. And this man would be cruel about it too. He'd get off on hurting me. Emotionally and physically. I would never subject myself to treatment like that again. It always seemed like fun and quickly devolved into something toxic that left me with permanent scars.

I pulled my shoulders back and used the professional tone I'd adopted during medical school. "No, Helix. I don't want to have sex with you."

His grin grew into a full-toothed smile. One of them was chipped, but it matched his personality. "You'd love it." His deep voice rumbled from his chest with a sinister snarl.

I stepped back and cleared my throat. "You should go now." Why did I suddenly feel like I was flirting with Ted Bundy?

Because even though he'd lied about his experience, the overall breadth of it was true. He had been a Navy SEAL. This wasn't some thug off the street. He was an elite tactical warfare specialist.

I was way out of my depth. I'd faced down bikers before but never a man who'd seen real-life combat, hunted foreign enemies, and could kill a man with one strike.

He stared at me for several seconds. I hated that I couldn't hide my reaction to him. Fear, surprise, curiosity. I wished he'd told me the truth because I really wanted to know what was behind the mercurial simmer in his eyes.

Helix lifted his chin and finally stopped smiling. His face returned to the casual facade it had been during his interview. "Bye, Doctor Doctor."

He left my office, and I exhaled as I plopped down into my seat. My short time with Helix left me rattled and antsy. The eyes that assessed me but gave nothing away, the tongue bar he twirled, the jeans that looked so good on him, the mechanical tattoos that made it seem like I could see inside his brain when the truth was I could see only blackness.

He was dangerous, mysterious, transfixing. All bad things. Fascinating but strictly off-limits in my new life.

I called up my boss and he answered quickly. "Vander Knight."

"Mr. Knight."

"Vander."

"Vander. Right. This is Fiona Rasminsky. Uh, this referral for Roth Jameson aka Helix?"

"Yes."

"His psychological evaluation came back extremely high risk and unstable."

He clicked his tongue. "That's unexpected. He's a former SEAL. Came highly recommended. A unique skill set we could really benefit from."

"I know but he didn't pass the exam."

He paused for a second. "Let's do this. I'll send him out on an assignment and you tag along. Spend time with him in the field. Maybe it was the office setting."

Oh no. This would not end well. The last thing I needed was more time with Helix the pathological liar. "To be honest, I wouldn't feel safe alone with him."

"I'll send a man out to trail you."

"I really don't know…"

"Special Forces vets are complicated people. I can pretty much guarantee he won't hurt you, but he also won't tell you anything in a short interview. You need to stick with him to find out what makes him tick. There's gotta be some redeeming qualities in him or he wouldn't have been recommended by people I respect. I'm giving him another chance before we turn him away."

"I understand." What he said was making logical sense, but the man I'd met didn't exhibit any honorable traits or characteristics.

"I'll set up a job for him and you ride along. Nothing risky. Something local."

The way Vander was going out of his way to make this work for Helix made me wonder if he'd done the same for me. I had a shady past that must've come up on my background check, yet he'd hired me, a rookie psychiatrist, and was trusting me with his hiring process.

This job meant everything to me. A fresh start. A chance to pay off my college debt. Independence for the first time in my life. If it meant the same to Helix, who was I to deny him that? "Okay."

"Ten-four. Over and out."

Yikes. Vander was quick and decisive. I suppose that's how you became CEO of a huge successful company like Knight Security. It would take some getting used to, but he clearly wasn't going to coddle me during my probationary period. It was sink or swim with this job. Good. I loved a challenge. I didn't have the fortitude of a Navy SEAL, but maybe I could learn something from being around them.

***

Thumpy exhaust beats like those from a motorcycle hit my ears and sent a shiver down my spine.

Relax, Fiona. No one will come after you here. They don't even know where you live.

I twisted the blue rubberband at the end of my braid. I'd decided on a herringbone pattern. Simple, orderly, polite.

I'd forced myself not to obsess over my braid and picked out jeans and a ribbed shirt with a light suede jacket. The shoes were a problem. What kind of shoes did a psychiatrist wear to a ride-along with a former SEAL turned con man? Certainly not sneakers. Maybe boots?

I was sifting through my foot caddy when the doorbell rang and I jumped up.

Shoot. He was here.

I needed more deliberation on the shoes but quickly picked out a pair of ankle boots with a low heel.

He knocked again.

Darn.

Okay. It was time.

I can do this. I am brave. I'm not afraid of him.

I slipped on my boots as I hopped to the door.

Helix stood there like a giant dark omen. Dressed in all black with opaque shades resting on his high cheekbones, the metal chain dangling from his pocket. A thicker goatee than last time covered his chin. Torn black denim jeans and a leather jacket with studded pockets. A dangerous smirk on his lips.

Oh yeah. Totally afraid of him.

He walked in without asking permission. Maybe he'd grown tired of staring at my mouth hanging open.

"Ready?" He scanned my place quickly but didn't show any interest or reaction.

I looked out the door and spotted the back end of a hog in my driveway. "Did you come on a bike?"

"You're going for a ride-along. That's my ride."

"I'm not riding on your bike."

"Something wrong with my bike? Classic Harley. Most chicks dig it." He shrugged.

"I'm not riding on your bike because I know what it means."

He narrowed his eyes and leaned down. "What're you talkin' about?"

"You know darn well I can't ride with you."

He straightened and glanced back at the door. "I didn't see any rules posted."

"They aren't posted. It's just something you know." I dragged out the word know as it scraped out of my throat.

Deep breaths, Fiona. It's just a bike on your driveway. You're safe.

"You think it means something if you ride with me on my bike?"

"I know it does." God, why was he acting so clueless? "I'll take my car."

"You can't follow me in a car. You'll ride with me, and it doesn't mean shit. It means you're a back warmer. Nothing else. You've been watching too much Sons of Anarchy or something?"

"I don't need to watch SOA, I was raised in a motorcycle club," his eyes widened slightly, "and I know I'm not getting on the back of your bike. No way in hell. Go home and get a car and come back and pick me up or I'm following you in my car." I pointed out the door toward his bike.

"You're serious?" He propped one wrist on his hip and cocked a knee out.

"Of course." My breathing was coming fast now, my heart pounding. "Answer me this. Have you ever had a girl on the back of your bike?"

"That's a new bike."

"Have you had a girl on the back of it?"

"Not yet."

"Exactly! It's not gonna be me either. Whoever gets to be that girl will remember it for her entire life and so will you. I am not that girl. Woman. I'm not that woman. I'm not your woman. I'm not your old lady. I'll never be anyone's old lady. I'm no one's property. So take that hog off my driveway now before I go out there myself and roll it down the hill into the fiery ditch from hell that it came from." Someone was screaming. Was it me? Uh, I think I was screaming. Uh, oops.

To make it worse, he didn't say anything. No reaction at all. He just stared at me like I was a mime doing a street performance and he was a bored tourist.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, his teeth gnawed his lower lip, and his eyes filled with contempt.

I could only imagine how my words had hit him. I'd rejected his bike so I'd rejected him. The worst kind of insult to a man.

I felt bad, but it was his own fault.

It was inconsiderate to bring a Harley here today. He'd only met me for a few hours, during which time he lied to me incessantly. What did he think I'd hop on with him and cruise the city? We were supposed to do work. A ride-along like a cop and a reporter. Not a ride-along like Easy Rider.

He looked down at my carpet, nodded to it like it he agreed, and turned and walked out. He left the door open, fired up his bike, and hit the throttle hard so the kick and purr popped into my living room like firecrackers as he rode off.

My chest heaved with the effort to breathe. I'd really gotten worked up over this.

I had a feeling we weren't doing a ride-along today.

Fine. Good. I didn't want to be alone with him.

But I still had to do the assessment and now he was gone.

He'd never come back after what I'd done.

What would I tell my boss?

His Harley triggered me, and I yelled at the top of my lungs like a mad woman until he rode away?

What a giant mess!

I'd worked so hard to keep my old life from affecting my new one and two wheels showed up and I was back where I started.

Stuck in the club. The prez's daughter. Untouchable.

Until he came along.

The one who touched me.

Cesar caused this. This was all his fault. A bike wouldn't trigger most girls. They would've probably loved a ride like Helix said.

Most chicks dig it.

I was clearly not most chicks.


Chapter 2 Monsters


"I had to come clean because I didn't want to start off this job with lies." I'd told Vander everything that happened with Helix. From the failed interview to the bike-in-the-driveway freak out.

I did not tell him about the "wanna bang" comment because I was pretty sure that would get Helix booted for harassment, and it definitely didn't feel like that. I found him very attractive and he'd probably picked up on my ogling of him during the interview. He didn't have a lot of finesse, but the proposal wasn't harassment.

"That's good. I appreciate the honesty. I also find it funny." Vander's rich voice pulled my attention back to the phone call.

"What? My trauma at the thought of having to ride on a motorcycle?"

"No. That he lied. Three hours with a straight face? Not giving you anything?" He chuckled.

I made a noise like I understood what he meant, but I absolutely didn't. Where was the humor in it?

Maybe there was some kind of hot alpha commando code where lying was cool. In my book, lying made him dishonest and untrustworthy, but hey, we all valued different things.

"I still need you to sign off on him. I'll set up another ride-along and make sure he brings a car."

Oh no. Another ride-along.

"And someone to tail us?"

"Yes. You'll be safe."

I still felt apprehensive about it, but I had to trust my new boss. "Okay. Thank you."

He chuckled again and ended the call.

***

Sure enough, Helix showed up at my place with… Was that a convertible Mustang? The weather in San Diego was perfect for a top-down drive, so it wasn't all that unusual, but the wind would mess up my hair. Luckily today I decided to go with a traditional braid wrapped in a bun around the pony.

I grabbed a baseball cap and pushed the bun through the hole in the back.

If my hair stayed in place, I felt like I had control. Logically, I knew my hair did not affect events in the outside world, but illogically, I firmly believed the proper braid had Princess Leia-like superpowers.

This time he didn't walk in and leave the door open. He stepped back on the porch and left room for me to lock my door and walk in front of him.

"Nice car." I figured I owed him a compliment after the mean things I'd said about his bike.

He didn't say anything, just closed my door and walked around the front to the driver's side.

We drove in silence to a vantage point overlooking the restaurants and shops on the boardwalk near the harbor. Bicycles, joggers, and cars passed by for half an hour.

"What are we looking for?" I finally asked.

"A guy named Ocampo. Mexican gangbanger. We're waiting for him to mess up."

"That could take a long time."

"It could happen in two seconds."

Another hour passed. The sun went down and the air grew chilly.

"Can we put the top up? I'm getting cold."

"No." His gaze stuck to that boardwalk like he was on guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

My stomach grumbled. It had been muttering, but now it was full-on protesting. "Let's take a break and get something to eat."

"No."

"I've been staring at that restaurant for hours now imagining what kind of burgers they have. I bet they have fantastic onion rings."

He grunted.

Was that a yum grunt or a no grunt? This man was hard as hell to read, but my guess it was a no considering that seemed to be his favorite word.

After all this time, I still didn't have enough information to complete an assessment. I had to get him talking.

"So…" I tried to sound casual but it was pretty obvious what I was doing. "Were you really a Navy SEAL?"

"Yes."

"Why'd you leave?"

"My contract was up."

"And are you still close with your team?"

"No."

"Oh. Was that disappointing for you?"

"No."

I needed more than one word answers out of him, and I needed him to tell me the truth. "Please be honest with me. Lying is a waste of both our time."

He leveled his steely gaze on me and I fought a shiver. "Yes, it was disappointing. Surprising? Not really." He sat back in his seat and stared at the boardwalk again.

"Hmm. So why do you want this job at Knight Security?"

"Wanna stay out of prison."

"Is that it? Aren't you worried they'll disappoint you too?"

"I don't expect anyone to come through for me. People don't stick their necks out for a man who looks like me."

"And what do you look like?"

He gave me a sideways glance.

"What do you think you look like to other people?" I clarified.

"I terrify people. They walk quicker, look back over their shoulder, anything to get away."

"And do you have any friends?"

He braced an elbow on the wheel and turned toward me. "You wanna know about me? I'm not from your world."

"So you believe you're an alien?"

He pressed his lips together and almost smiled. "Here's the deal." His voice finally softened and he looked up to the sky then continued. "I'm two people. One bad, one good. They don't get along so my life is hell."

"Ah, split personality disorder."

"Stop trying to label me." He scowled. "Makes you look like an amateur."

Ouch. Jerk. I was just joking. Suddenly I didn't give a crap about the assessment. He hadn't passed and it was his fault. Not mine. "Fine. Let's just sit here in silence for hours. No. Let's listen to my stomach gurgle and compose lyrics to it." I started to sing with a grungy monster voice. "I'm hungry. Give me some food."

He held up a hand and shifted forward. "There he is."

I gasped and sat up. "Which one?" I saw lots of people.

He pulled binoculars out of a bag in the back seat. "Yellow shirt. Talking to white shirt outside the restaurant. There's a girl." He put his phone on speaker and hit record then went back to watching through the binoculars. I still didn't see them.

"Fourteen," a man with a Spanish accent said.

"Virgin?" a muted voice responded.

"A thousand more for virgin."

I finally spotted them and my stomach turned. Two men with a young girl who was wearing a bikini top and sarong. She looked so tiny. Just a child.

The other guy asked another muffled question.

"We can do that, yeah," the man standing next to the girl answered. He was hard to understand and talking fast. I only picked up a few words. "Pretty… smiles… do everything… blow…"

The man asked about a party and friends. He definitely had an American accent. Possibly even Californian.

"How many?"

"Ten… virgin… fourteen… twelve."

It was so hard to process this conversation, but I could deduce what was happening. They were making a deal for the girl. She was being trafficked. I opened my mouth but only a squeak came out.

This could not be happening right in front of us on the street in San Diego. This sort of thing happened elsewhere. Right?

No. I knew from my studies and from personal experience that heinous acts like this can happen in broad daylight. San Diego was a huge port. Thousands of people came in and out every day.

Helix listened intently. His shoulders slowly raising, his eyes squinting into the binoculars, his whole body rigid and stiff.

The American guy said something about a place for the party, making sure no cops showed up, and again mentioned virgin girls.

They bickered over the amount then shook hands and walked in opposite directions.

The girl followed behind the man who was selling her, her shoulders slouched and arms around her waist. She wasn't wearing a sweater or even a shirt. Just a bathing suit top.

Helix looked at me with eyes burning at a low-boil about to explode. I felt the same way.

"Follow that guy. Hurry. He's getting away." I climbed up on my seat, pointing down at the man leaving with the girl.

He gripped the steering wheel and watched them move out of our view as they rounded a corner. "We gotta let him go for now."

"What? No. There was a teenage girl. He's selling her for sex!"

He nodded. "We'll get him."

"Get him now! That poor girl must be terrified. She doesn't even have a sweater."

"We'll get him," he said again with a frighteningly deep voice. "Patience."

Patience? Patience? No way. I was not letting her leave with that man.

I climbed out of the car without opening my door. That's what convertibles were for, right?

I sprinted down the hill with his "shit" and then rapid footsteps following.

We had to save her right now.

His forearm clamped around my waist, and his powerful body collided with my back as we stumbled to a stop.

"We can't let her go," I yelled, struggling to get out of his ironclad hold.

"We have to," he said into my ear.

"No."

"We'll get both of them. We'll rescue the girl and the others. Don't worry."

"Others?"

"They set up a sex party with more girls."

"Oh God!" I tried to run again, but he lifted my feet off the ground until I stopped.

He kept his arms around me as we stood frozen on the sidewalk. Tears filled my vision.

It was impossible to accept. We had to let her go so we could rescue more later.

Then I was up in his arms, being carried back up the hill. My chest heaved as he put me in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt.

I was a mess. I covered my face with my hands. The horrid image of those men with the girl would be branded in my brain forever. Abuse and exploitation like that, especially at such a tender age, burns scars deep in a girl's soul. Scars that never fully heal.

He surprised me by placing a hand on my neck. Rough skin but a light touch. "Like I said. Not from my world."

As he drove, I managed to stop crying and dry my face. He removed his hand from my neck and moved it to the headrest behind me.

A psychiatrist was supposed to be stronger about such things. I'd studied this. I'd had patients who'd been abused. I had been a victim myself. I knew it happened. I knew the pain it caused, but until I'd observed a human being selling a child in real-life, I'd never felt the bottomless depth of it. Who could see that and not act? How could we drive away from what we'd witnessed?

"You recorded all that?" I asked him.

"Yes."

From the conviction in Helix's voice and what I knew of Vander so far, I had faith they'd be able to stop Ocampo and rescue the girls.

"I want to help."

"Assumed that from your reaction." He smirked as he pulled into my driveway and turned off the car. "You gonna be all right?"

"I should be okay." My hands and legs trembled. I was not all right. Nowhere near it.

"You got a roommate or girlfriend you can call to come stay with you?" The compassion in his voice caught me off-guard.

"No. Probably best not to talk to anyone about it anyway. Not till it's over."

"That's wise." He glanced at my front door then back to me. "You shouldn't be alone tonight."

"I'll be fine. I'm tougher than I look."

He raised his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth turned down. "I'll stay until you're back on your feet."

Wow. Helix was knocking me down with his out-of-the-blue kindness. "No. It's fine." My hand shook as I reached for my bag.

"I'll stay." He came around to my side and opened my door.

I couldn't figure him out. He seemed eager and reluctant at the same time. "Okay."

He followed me to my door and hesitated in the threshold after I walked in.

"Are you coming in?"

He looked around then ducked his head and entered slowly.

I took off my jacket and plopped down on the couch. "Let's sit down for a minute."

"I'm staying longer than a minute." He sat next to me closer than I anticipated. His long arm casually draped over the couch behind my neck, and I suddenly felt hyper aware of his presence.

I closed my eyes and rubbed the bridge of my nose. "Promise me you're gonna get those guys." I needed to hear it again.

"Yeah. And free those girls. Every last one of 'em."

"Okay. I believe you. It's so hard to comprehend monsters like that exist."

"Not for me."

"Where'd you grow up?" We'd been through so much, but I still didn't know the basics about him beyond the minimal information I'd received in his file.

"Streets of Los Angeles." He stared at me blankly. He really had beautiful eyes. "Monsters are real and they're everywhere. These particular monsters are gonna die slow and painful-like."

"You can't kill them."

He grunted.

"I thought you wanted to stay out of prison?"

He grunted again. "Rethinking that right about now."

"I can relate. If I would've made it to them today, I'd probably be sitting in a jail cell arrested on murder charges."

"No you wouldn't."

"You didn't give me a chance."

He chuckled and wrapped his arm over my shoulder. Air pushed from my lungs when he pulled me in until my cheek rested on his firm, flat pec. A whiff of salty air and pine scent hit my nose.

I didn't expect it to help, but his touch calmed me, and my tight muscles relaxed. It was the sneak-attack hug I didn't know I needed.

His fingers moved ever so slightly on my upper arm. The tiniest of contact, but I felt it to my toes. He was so incredibly sexy and even more so after his valiant actions today.

I took the chance to look up at him and when he focused his gray eyes on me, a warm light had replaced the cool darkness that had always been there. As if looking at me subdued him and brought him comfort.

His fingers twirling on my shoulder were driving me wild. Imagine that motion somewhere else…

A little lower…

Commence panties melting and butterflies fluttering.

I held my breath as he lowered his head and touched his soft lips against mine with a tentative brush. The flutter in my stomach turned to a buzz of excited bees and the tip of my tongue snuck out. I didn't intend to do it, but it happened.

He froze and looked torn for a second before he grabbed my head and pulled my face closer, his tongue forging in to twist with mine.

His hot mouth tasted like sunshine and ocean waves. Not the crazy bad things of this world. Good, pure things.

The warmth of his large hand skimming over my ribs and squeezing my hip made my body react without my permission, wetness growing between my legs, nipples hardening. I was revved up to do this before my brain could catch up.

He grabbed my knee and yanked until I was almost pinned beneath his massive frame.

Warning bells chimed in my head.

I couldn't sleep with him. I had to protect my heart and my body. The truth was I didn't know this man at all, and he was capable of hurting me in many different ways. I wanted to be the girl who could have casual sex and walk away, but I had to accept I was not that girl.

My palms pressed flat to his hard chest. "You should…"

He sat up and cleared his throat. "Not leaving." He rubbed his hand down his cheek and glanced at the closed door. We'd both gotten carried away in the kiss, and for a second I thought he was angry. "I'll sleep on the couch in case you have nightmares."

Wow. Good Helix was not playing.

I probably wouldn't have nightmares, but the thought of him sleeping on my couch made me feel safe. "Okay."

I handed him a pillow and a blanket and he held them on his lap. I didn't want to think about him being hard under there so I slipped away. "Uh, night."

In my room, I changed into sleep clothes and finally removed the braid from my hair. It hung down my back in pretty spiral waves that I always wished would last but never did.

It felt so good to climb into my cool sheets. So much had happened, but I had one last job to do; write a text to Vander Knight.

Me: Helix passed his psych eval. He would be a valuable asset to Knight Security. I strongly recommend him for hire.

I set my phone on the nightstand and tried to push it all out of my head so I could sleep. The poor sweet girl, the monstrous men, and the earth-shattering kiss. Good Helix was dangerous. He'd probably killed more people than I wanted to think about, but tonight I was very grateful he existed.

###

What do you think? Should Helix be Book 3 in the Knight Secuirty series? Is he finally ready to reveal what's beneath the ink?



WORK IN PROGRESS: STEEL VALOR

Teague "Steel" Knight suffered horrible torture during his captivity under Colombian drug lords. Freed by his brother, he has a second chance at life, but the demons still haunt him.

She lives the life of a con artist and avoids all forms of intimacy, especially men. But when Teague forces her to face her fears, her fragile life threatens to implode. 

Can these two lost souls fight the darkness of the past and help each other to a future full of love and passion?

Steel Valor expected publication fall 2021. 

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Future Projects - Frequently Asked Questions

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Remy and Sutton: This project is on the list with no start date. 

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