I couldn't imagine the fight I would have on my hands if I tried to tell Nassir to stop in the middle of something like that, especially after years and years of the back-and-forth between us. I knew he would stop if I asked him to, he always respected the distance I insisted we keep between us, but I knew if he ever got his hands on me, he would taunt, torment, tease, torture his way right back to where he wanted to be and there would be no more stopping. He was not a man to be denied, and I had always taken great pride in being the one thing, the one person, to elude his very clever grasp even if all I wanted to do was let him hold me close and keep me safe. I was too smart to believe in the false sense of security a man like Nassir offered. Everything about him and his lifestyle was dangerous even if I knew he would treat me like I was his most prized possession.
I refused to be his anything . . . let alone his belonging.
I snorted at myself as I locked the door and headed to my bathroom. Not so clever anymore if all I could think about was him after I had purposely sent him on his way. I needed a shower to wash the feeling of defeat and wrongness off; then I was going to curl into bed and finish the book I was reading. My love life sucked, so I saw no reason not to live vicariously through a cute teenage girl that was in love with a dead sexy alien with attitude who turned into beams of light. It was fun and made me forget about my own nonsense for a minute. And the fact that the hero of the story was exotic, dark, and mysterious didn't hurt things either.
After I was curled into bed and realized I was reading the same page over and over again and not comprehending a single word, I shut the Kindle down and picked my phone up off the nightstand next to my bed. I scrolled through the contacts, purposely skipping over the N section, and found the number I was looking for. It was late but I knew she would answer. I didn't have anyone I really called a friend, but Reeve Black came close. She grew up in the same kind of life I did. She understood why it was hard to let anyone in and she helped me when I needed someone to spring me from the hospital after I got shot. She also promised not to tell me "told you so" when I came crawling back home with my tail tucked between my legs.
Her cell rang once before she answered. "What's up, bitch?"
I could hear the noise of the strip club in the background. I tended to try to forget she was working for Nassir. She had taken over Spanky's and made it as reputable as a strip club run by a crook could be.
"I just kicked a guy that was a really good kisser out of my apartment." It wasn't what I meant to say but the words just sort of tripped off my tongue.
I heard Reeve laugh and then she told me to hold on while the noise and music in the background faded away. When she was somewhere quieter she said, "He must not have been that good if you made him leave."
"No, he was; really, really good, but it felt so wrong and I haven't been laid in almost a year and I'm going crazy. It's all Nassir's fault."
"A year? You've only been gone for six months, Key."
I blew out a frustrated breath and looked up at the ceiling. "Yeah, but Nassir took over the club a year ago. You think anyone was going to go home with me with him looking over their shoulder? Ugh
. . . I hate him."
She laughed again. "We were all surprised he came back alone. He's not familiar with the word 'no.'"
"Tell me about it. Before he left, he paid some hobo to beat me up in the parking lot."
"Are you kidding me!?" She swore. "Why would he do that?"
"Because I hurt him." The words whispered out and I hated that I could always ache for a man I was pretty sure didn't have a soul.
"He is such a dick." She sounded furious on my behalf, and that was why she was my only almost-friend.
"He is, but it was his face I was picturing while the guy from tonight touched me, it was his voice I kept hearing in my ear. I know he's mostly terrible and has no remorse for doing shady, illegal things, but I can't seem to forget him."
She clicked her tongue in a tsk. "I told you before you left that there is no accounting for what the heart wants. In your case, it sounds like you can't fool your body either. There is no substitute for a guy like Nassir."
I put a hand over my eyes and roughly rubbed my temples. "He'll destroy me, Reeve. He'll take over my life. All the choices I've made, the way I've struggled to build my life on my own terms . . . it'll all just be wasted time and effort because he'll control everything. I'll hate myself and then eventually I'll for real start to hate him." And that I couldn't bear. My heart had been twisted up over Nassir for so long that the idea of it actually turning on him for good made me sick to my stomach.
She made a sympathetic sound low in her throat and I could hear her tapping her fingers on something. "Sometimes you have to burn it all, level it all to the ground, for something new to sprout up out of the ashes."
My heart skipped a little beat at the idea of someone as formidable and impenetrable as Nassir being breakable. "Man, the cop has turned you into a big ol' pile of mushy goo, bitch."
Reeve had hooked up with a detective and was head over heels for him. Last I heard from her, she was trying to get knocked up and live the kind of life the Point usually smashed. Reeve was a fighter and a survivor, so if anyone could hold on to a dream and not let the city steal it, it was her.
She giggled, actually giggled, and I felt an answering smile twist my lips.
"Shut up. I'm just saying you never know what can happen. Even Hades loved Persephone."
I snorted. "He kept her trapped in hell and only let her loose a few times a year."
"Stop crapping all over my awesome analogies. You get my point and . . ." She paused and I could almost hear her turning over what she wanted to say next in her head. "He's been really off ever since you left. Like even scarier than normal."
A chill raced across my skin and I sat up in the bed. I wasn't aware that my fingers clutched the phone in a death grip until my knuckles cracked. "What do you mean?"
"He's been fighting."
I heard words floating around inside my head but couldn't seem to grasp on to them. "What do you mean, fighting? With you and Chuck?" Nassir didn't fight. He said his piece, made declarations of how things were going to be, stated his standards and expectations, and then waited for things to be done his way and his way only. He didn't waste his words or his time on an argument he was bound to win.