Bowen Boys 4.5: Hard Limits

Elle Aycart

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Nico Grabar, head of one of the most ruthless cartels in the world, is in the last stretch of a two-year nightmare. His agenda is full. He has a criminal organization to run. A cover to maintain. A promise to fulfill. Too bad he...
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Nico Grabar, head of one of the most ruthless cartels in the world, is in the last stretch of a two-year nightmare. His agenda is full. He has a criminal organization to run. A cover to maintain. A promise to fulfill. Too bad he’s bleeding to death in the middle of nowhere, about to meet his Maker on a deserted street. A fitting ending to a bleak existence, really.

A beautiful bride, dressed in a thrift-store wedding gown with raccoon eyes and a choke collar, and covered from head to military boots in blood, rescues him. It's the Grim Reaper, made over just for him. What an honor.

Seriously. Who finds a frigging drug lord in serious need of resuscitation while coming back from a bachelorette party during the wee hours? Paige, aka Goth waitress at Rositas and a magnet for psychopaths, of course.

Paige has already survived one major asshole, narrowly escaping with her life. The last thing she needs having to play Florence Nightingale to a dangerous kingpin. What if he dies on her?

Or worse--what if he doesn’t?

Excerpt
Paige woke up crying out, fighting with the quilt. She was still on the armchair. Nico was beside her, shaking her shoulder, looking worried.

She brought her hands to her throat. No blood. And Nico wasn’t wielding a knife. He was actually standing wonkily, holding his side.

“You okay?” he asked. “You were thrashing in your sleep.”

It was darker in the living room, so she must have been out for several hours. “Just a nightmare,” she answered, her voice a broken thread. Her whole body was trembling. Her heart was racing. She was freaking out.

Doing her damnedest to control her breathing, she looked at his harsh yet concerned face, the depth of the blue in his eyes. She’d cut the clothes off his body, emptied his pockets. Nico didn’t have a knife. She knew it. And there wasn’t anything sharper than a butter knife in the whole place except for the manicure scissors she’d ruined on his shirt. He hadn’t drawn a knife on her; he would never. He was still mostly naked, pale, bleeding—

Blood was seeping from his wound. That snapped her out of it. “You’re bleeding again.”

“Forget it.”

Paige ignored him. She needed something to take her mind off the nightmare and calm her down, or she was going to have a panic attack.

God, she hated how vulnerable those made her feel, how easily she went from normal to being a wreck. How her lizard brain took over and she lost all control. Rendered a shivering mess in a second. Absolutely hated it.

“Let’s get you to the bed,” she said. “You need to lie down, and I need space to change those bandages properly.”

“I can take care of that myself.”

Yep, he was used to relying on no one. Too bad that wasn’t going to happen today. “I’m sure you can, but all that bending and twisting would burst your stitches, and you have no right to make me clean up after you again when you pass out. So shut up and let me do it.”

It must have been her tone. Or the resolution in her face. Maybe both. Whatever the reason, she was glad he didn’t put up a fight and walked slowly to the bedroom. He didn’t stagger, and she got the feeling he was used to physical pain too.

Paige followed him, carrying the large first-aid kit she’d used earlier to stitch him up. She sat beside him on the bed and pulled out fresh gauze, an Ace bandage, antibiotic cream, and a prescription bottle. This time when she offered the pills, he took them.

“Where did this bottle come from?”

“Standard equipment in posh guesthouses—didn’t you know?” Doggedly, she got busy. The nightmare still rattled her, her hands a bit shaky, but concentrating her attention on a task helped tons. And thank God for that, because the last thing she wanted was to end up breathing into a paper bag and having to explain why to a drug lord. When she lifted her gaze to his, though, all her musings flew out the window.

Man, he looked so good, even after being gunned down and all but bleeding out. Go figure.

There was something about Nico that compelled her to forget the world around her. He held her complete attention. No room for panic or hesitation. Same as had happened at their first meeting. Knowing now that he wasn’t a regular guy but a drug lord didn’t change the end result: she was spellbound.

“What was the nightmare about?” Nico asked, his icy eyes fixed on hers.

She thought for a second about lying and then canned the idea. “You were trying to kill me with a knife.”

He didn’t look surprised or affronted. “I see.” After a short pause, he continued. “Just so you know, knives are not my thing. I do better with guns.”

A short, nervous giggle bubbled up. “Good to know.”

She cleaned his wound, unable to ignore the tent in his boxers. “I see from the waist down, it’s all happy days.”

Kudos to him, he looked contrite. “Sorry. Combat adrenaline.”

She pouted playfully. “Oh, really? And here I thought it was all about this gorgeous woman in front of you playing Nightingale.”

He held her gaze, his face inscrutable. “That too.”

Her playfulness died in her throat at his matter-of-fact tone. She smiled, uneasy, and gesturing toward his chest, tried changing the subject. “Some tattoos you got there.” They were crude and raw, and he’d hardly gotten them in a fancy tattoo parlor.

“Jail tattoos. Russian jail tattoos.”

Right. And that was why she should stop admiring his abs and the tent in his boxers and keep her distance. Easier said than done. Something about him called to her.

Her therapist had been very clear: ease into the intimacy. No scary guys. Go for the laid-back, playful types. Sure. For over a year she hadn’t clicked with anyone. If they abided by her rules, she got bored. If they didn’t, she got scared. Either way, she never got hot, as if that part of her had been turned off. Not that she could be blamed for it. Still, big letdown.

Under Nico’s scrutinizing stare, she felt scared and panicked and hot and bothered all at once. It was a heady sensation. A very inappropriate and untimely one, though.

She’d experienced it too that time at Rosita’s. They’d spoken for hours. Joked. Laughed and flirted, an undercurrent of danger sizzling all around. She’d been so tempted to go out with him when he asked. So damned tempted. She hadn’t felt that strong an attraction since…well, since ever.

But something had stopped her. Maybe that sense of self-preservation that dream-Nico had mentioned in her nightmare?

While bandaging his wound, she motioned to the beautiful Orthodox cross dangling on his chest. “Are you religious?”

He shook his head. “I’m an eye-for-an-eye kind of guy.”

“And the cross?”

“Not mine.” He didn’t offer any more explanation, his intense glare burning her.

Trying to block all the sensory input, Paige worked methodically. After she wrapped the Ace bandage around him, she addressed the gash over his eyebrow. Bad idea. She was so close to him, she felt his breath on her.

“What’s up with all the piercings?” he asked.

She snorted drily. “I didn’t get them in jail, I’ll tell you that.”

“No, you didn’t,” he assented, his gaze glued to the piercings on her bottom lip. “Too clean a mark. They would have botched that sweet mouth.”

The way he was staring at her lips gave her goose bumps. “Snake bite.”

“What?”

“What you are looking at. They are called a snake bite.”

“Fancy name,” he murmured, lifting his gaze to hers and leaving it there.

He was very tan, especially for someone with such clear Nordic ancestry. His hair was blond, some strands almost white from the sun. He hadn’t spent last winter in Boston, that was for sure. His blue eyes were piercing, the more so because they were surrounded by dark-blond eyelashes. For all his roughness and scars, his broken and reset nose, he was classically handsome, with harsh angles and planes.

Before she could stop herself, she brushed her fingers over one of the tattoos on his pecs. He froze at the contact, all his muscles bulging. Whether pain or pleasure caused it, she didn’t know, but his breath had caught.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, trying to move away.

He trapped her hand against his chest. “No need to apologize.”

God, they were so close. Sexy energy swirled and crackled around them, scorching the last working neurons and any common sense she had left.

He caressed her arm, and she let him. Without breaking eye contact, he closed the gap between their mouths very slowly, giving her time to rebuff him, but she was enthralled.

For such a hard man, his lips were so soft. He kissed her gently, coaxing her to open for him, licking at the seam of her mouth.

“You need to leave now,” he whispered. When she didn’t move, he continued, “Aren’t you scared of me? You should be.”

That’s what he’d said in the nightmare. But she was so damn tired of being afraid, of letting her brain drag her into that bottomless pit of despair and fear. She wanted to regain control of her life, of her body, and what her body wanted now was him. She wanted him. Like hell would she let her hang-ups cheat her of this. She had allowed her mind to play tricks on her for far too long.

“No.”

“No to what?” he asked.

“No, I’m not afraid, and no, I’m not leaving.”

Careful not to touch his side, she straddled him, needing more leverage.

At the contact with his groin, Nico groaned, deepening the kiss, his incipient beard abrading Paige’s skin.

God, this felt so good. Until he made some sudden move that pulled at his side, and he couldn’t stifle the wince.

That brought her back to reality, and appalled at her behavior, she lifted her hips off him immediately. “Sorry.” She would have unstraddled him, or so she liked to believe, but his hands kept her thighs in place. Cupping his face, she whispered, “You are not up for this. I better let you rest.”

“Actually, I am very much up for this,” he said, his smile intoxicating.

True. She could still feel his erection against her open folds, pressing against her throbbing clit. “You know what I mean. You’re injured, and I never heard of Florence Nightingale molesting her patients.”

He chuckled softly, laugh lines appearing around his smoldering eyes. “Fuck Florence Nightingale. I want you.”

He didn’t move, leaving the decision to her.

She also wanted him, but did she have the gall to take him?

Copyright © Elle Aycart

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