***Trashy timeshare just off the Vegas strip***

Donovan paced the small living room into the kitchenette and back to the door. He looked at the clock on the wall again. He had been doing the same damned thing for the last two hours. Another hour and a half dragging Selena’s whiny pregnant ass up and down the strip looking for her. That meant it had been almost four hours since Jo rushed out of that bar. Where the fuck was she?

Maybe he should go back out there? Selena was asleep. But that was nothing new. All she did was sleep, eat, and cry. He got it. He understood. Or he was trying to. Junior had essentially raped her. Gotten her pregnant. Offered her money to have an abortion and keep quiet. Then when she did not jump at the chance, he’d tried to have her killed. She was alone. She missed her family. And hell yeah, she was scared. He was too.

But somehow, he just could not imagine Jo being like that. Yes, he knew that was unfair. Jolene Monroe was a mature professional. And Selena was younger, almost two decades younger. Even then, Donovan just could not see even a younger Jo acting like…

The door opened, and a hooded figure came in. He reached for the gun that he kept in the waistband of his jeans. Until he recognized the slight figure, “Where the hell have you been?”

He did not yell precisely. He couldn’t. They did not need to draw attention to themselves. And they sure as hell did not need the neighbors calling the cops. These walls were definitely paper-thin. And the older couple next door watched him like a hawk every time he came and went.

“That’s none of your god damned business,” she looked around and then shook her head. “I don’t know why I even came back here. It’s not like there’s anything for me to pack.”

“What are you talking about? Of course, you came back here. Where else would you go?”

Donovan felt panic rising inside him. He knew that Jo had been increasingly agitated lately. He got that. All of them were. He spent every waking moment trying to come up with a better plan. It had even begun to invade his dreams. Well, nightmares more like it. Of this woman bloody in his arms.

“I’m going back. Like I should have on Monday morning. There’s no reason to believe that Jack or even Junior mean me any harm. Hell, we don’t even know that they were behind this. For all I know, it could be some random thing. Or one of your cousins’ enemies….”

He was across the room before he could stop himself. His hands gripped her shoulders, probably tighter than he should. But each word she spoke tightened that knot of fear in his stomach. The images, in those dreams of her pale skin even more ashen, her lips blue, and all that red, danced in his head. “You aren’t going anywhere, Jo.”

She tried to shake herself loose, but he was not having it. After a moment, she went still. Her head was down. He could feel her breathing, deep breathing. He knew the routine. Maybe he should be doing the same. But dammit, what was she thinking?

She finally looked up at him, “Look, this isn’t working out. Even if you’re right and Junior sent those people to take care of Selena, that has nothing to do with me. I should have done what I said I was going to all along. I should have walked into TT&T on Monday like nothing ever happened. Laughed it all off as some crazy LA shit if anyone asked.”

“Staying here with the two of you isn’t doing any of us any good. If I go back then maybe, maybe I’ll learn something that could help you. I could get a message to your grandmother or something. But just hiding out, moving every other day to another dive, hell, my mama’s trailer is bigger and nicer than this place. Shit, this ain’t much better than the one I grew up in.”

“And if I have to listen to that girl cry and whine or puke one more time, I swear I’m gonna….” She dropped her head again, shaking it as she spoke. “I’m just a third wheel with you love birds.”

Those last words were whispered so low that Donovan wasn’t even sure he heard them correctly. He used one hand to lift her chin while he wrapped the other arm around her waist. The little lady wasn’t going anywhere until they settled this. Correction, she wasn’t going anywhere. Period. “You think Selena and I are…?” He could not bring himself to even say the word.

Sure, he felt sorry for the girl and all she had been through. He was angry that John Tyson Junior thought his white male privilege extended to raping whatever intern or associate caught his eye. He was livid that the man had gotten away with it this long. Hell, he wanted to turn this one over his knee and spank that tight ass for enabling the bastard as she had. But…

“No,” he drew her so close that the woman could not doubt how he felt about her. He used one of his bump and grinds that had paid his tuition to press his hard cock against her. “There’s only one woman in this apartment that gets me hard as a fucking rock. That keeps me that way. And trust me, sweetheart, it ain’t Selena.”

Her eyes got wide as she looked up at him, shaking her blond head, “But the way, you’re always….”

“She’s a friend. She’s been through hell. She’s all alone and scared.”

“She’s not the only one,” Jo dropped her head and tried to push out of his arms.

Those words had been whispered even lower than the others. Donovan sensed how incredibly hard they were for her. Perhaps, more than likely, she had not even meant to say them. But he had been raised by Margot Bradshaw. The woman might have her picture next to the definition of intersectional feminist, but that did not mean he had not awoken in the middle of the night to hear sobs from her bedroom.

Whether those were for his dead mother, her beloved Cyrus that she had never gotten over, or his mysterious grandfather, who she refused to name. Or maybe it was just a lifetime of fighting for justice that seemed no closer than it had been in 1968 when she survived the triple whammy as she called the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and her husband. But Donovan learned early that strong women felt pain, got scared, and tired just like everyone else.

They just did not let anyone see that shit. But Donovan was determined things would be different for them. To his knowledge, Margot Bradshaw had faced it all alone, at least since they sent that mangled black body back in a wooden box from fighting a white man’s war of aggression as she called Vietnam. Jolene Monroe might have become used to bearing her burdens alone too. But no more. Not since the night she had chosen to take him back to her room in the Bigalow.

That’s how he had known where to look for her. Whether or not she even realized it, Donovan was confident that was what had drawn her back to the hotel. She might want to pretend that night had meant nothing to her, but he knew otherwise in his gut. Or perhaps that was just what his heart needed to believe.

But he could not tell her that. Not yet. He needed to figure out a plan and get them all somewhere safe before he started to dismantle the Great Wall of Jolene that she had built to keep her safe. That didn’t mean he could not show her, though.

Donovan drew her tighter against him. Damn, she was tiny. She did not even come to his shoulder, barely more than five feet tall. And he’d bet she didn’t even weigh a hundred pounds. If it weren’t for those hips and tits, you’d think she was a child or a teen. But she was all woman. His woman. And he was going to make that clear. Again.

But the moment he touched her lips, he was the one that was lost. In the taste and feel of destiny, and he had no doubt about that, even if she did. He would find a way, somehow, to convince her. His tongue teased her bottom lip, and she opened like a morning glory at the first weak rays of the sun. Her essence flooded his senses and welcomed him home. How had he gone this long, weeks without her? No more. He promised himself that he would taste her, feel her in his arms, pressed tightly against him, every day for the rest of their lives.

She groaned into his mouth, and he answered her with a growl that originated from the depths of his soul. His fingers brushed that damned hoodie back and laced through her soft blond hair. His hands on either side of her neck framed her face and angled her as he devoured her mouth. He drank her deep into his soul. Until Donovan knew this woman was all he would ever taste. All he wanted to.

He was so lost in the taste and feel of her that when she pushed against his chest, this time, it was enough to gain her freedom. “I have to go. My plane leaves in an hour. Jack has arranged a limo for me from the Bigalow.”

Her words cut through the fog of lust, “What the fuck, woman? You told that man where we are?”

She shook her head, “No, of course not. I would never betray you or the girl. But like I said, I have a life, a career, back there. And there’s no reason to believe that any of this has anything to do with me.”

“And what did you tell him? How did you fucking explain disappearing after his goons shot at you?” Donovan wasn’t sure if he wanted to kiss her senseless again or tie her to the bed so she could not do something stupid.

But neither was an option now. No matter what she said, he was sure that they would come after them now that the Tysons knew where to look. And sure, Vegas was a big place. But with the downturn in the economy and this virus, it was almost empty now. The casinos were even closing down some of the shows. They needed to get out of here. Now. And not just this apartment. But Vegas. Trouble was, Donovan feared that it was too dangerous and too late to involve his cousins further. They were on their own now. “We have to get out of here. I’ll go wake Selena.”

As he moved towards the lone bedroom where both women had been sleeping, Jo slipped out the door. “Fuck.” But at least he knew where she was going. He just hoped like hell they made it in time.

He had to. He could not live with the alternative. “Selena, we have to go.” He shook the girl lightly.

“Five more minutes.”

“Get your fucking ass up now,” Donovan forgot his resolve not to yell. But let the nosy neighbors call the cops. They weren’t going to be here by the time they arrived. If he had to drag the girl in her pajamas down the strip.

Thankfully she had followed his directive to sleep in her clothes. And his yelling seemed to have lit a fire under her ass as she got out of bed without a single question. They had both donned their hoodies, and Donovan had grabbed their backpack that contained the burner phone, tablet, and what money was left.

Now he just had to figure out a plan in the five-minute walk to the Bigalow. Because now that the Tysons knew they were in Vegas, the airport and bus station would be the first place they looked.

“Damn it, Jolene,” but he could not even be mad at her. She only wanted her life back, the one she had worked that cute curvy ass off to build her whole life. But to him, keeping her alive was more important. The only thing that mattered.

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