DA fears the CFO's deep family roots will come after her, particularly after the CFO states he will "'effing see to her death." So she's whisked away in a Yellow Cab into a short term police protection program to keep her safe.
The cabbie? Isaac Walker, undercover cop. For the duration, Isaac will be her protector, even though she doesn't want protection.
But Cerise and Isaac are not strangers. They'd shared a role play Fem Domme/sub encounter a year earlier-neither of them revealing who they really were. Now they are thrust together in a situation of extreme danger, passion, and trust, where Isaac must remain in control of the situation at all costs, even though he so very much wants to give it up to Cerise. And Cerise must do everything that Isaac says to the letter, even if she doesn't want to.
That is, if they want to get out of this thing alive.
“Here’s the thing, Cerise. We want you out of sight when it all goes down.”
An invisible hand clutched Cerise Thacker’s heart and squeezed. When it all goes down.
Sounded ridiculously serious. It was. Two days earlier, she would never have dreamed she’d be in the predicament she was in at this very moment.
“He’s not going to go graciously or quietly,” she told the men standing around her. No. He wouldn’t. She knew Tom Hankins only too well. In fact, she knew him intimately well. A mistake. It had been months ago, but since then and to this very day, it continued to bite her in the ass.
“That’s why we’re keeping you in here, behind the closed doors of your office.”
She’d be damn glad to get out of this office and as soon as possible. It was nine o’clock in the morning and she’d been here all night and all the day before. She longed for a shower and a change of clothing. Her filmy Donna Karan blouse was clinging to her back and chest because she’d done nothing but sweat the past ten hours. Nervous. But a shower wasn’t happening anytime soon. Tom was due in the office any minute, and she knew what he didn’t—that the second his slimy ass would kiss the seat of his leather desk chair, his life would change.
For the worse.
The term prison bitch came to mind.
And she was going to be the girl to send him there.
Yesterday afternoon one of the girls in accounting had come forward with some questions. Smart girl, that one. Just out of college, bright, curious. Always questioning, almost to the point of nuisance. In fact, so much of a nuisance that Cerise, herself, had had about enough.
The girl, Amanda was her name, thought some of Tom’s practices were archaic and, well, “questionable.”
Questionable! Tom was the CFO. When you are the new kid on the block, you don’t question the chief financial officer’s systems and practices.
Except yesterday, when Amanda had asked to see her yet again, Cerise had listened with a little more intent and damn if what the girl had said hadn’t made sense.
Tom Hankins was cooking the books. Her books. Her organization. Falsifying financial statements. With her signature! And she had trusted the bastard.
“What about Amanda?” She turned to her attorney, Mike Sterns. “Mike, should we get her in here too?”
He shook his head. “Naw. She’ll be fine. We’ll talk with her after we take Hankins in.”
Cerise knew they were trying to keep all of this on the hush until Tom was here, and then subsequently hauled away. To jail. At least until he called his attorney. The thought of him being in jail made her shiver. Oh, he was going to be mad. Livid. Insanely and recklessly red-faced.
No one in the outer office knew what was about to happen.
She never should have trusted him. All the signs and red flags cried out, “Do not trust this man, Cerise!” She had ignored every obvious sign and high-flying flag because, for one, he had the goods on her, and two, he scared the shit out of her.
Although she never, ever let him know that.
“Cerise,” Mike added, “Sit down. All we can do now is wait.”
Cerise glanced about. Mike stood to the right of her desk. Her tummy jerked in a nervous spasm. Two cops in suits flanked the other side of her desk, along with some young and eager assistant district attorney. Jack Peppers, the detective from the local police force, whom Mike had called yesterday as soon as he’d grasped the full extent of Cerise’s suspicions, stood square in front of her.
She sat, energy whooshing out of her with the movement. Leaning on her elbows into the desk she said, “I need coffee,” and rubbed her temples.
“No can do. Not until later.”
Cerise’s desk phone rang. She glanced at the display. “It’s Penny.” Her administrative assistant.
“Pick it up.” Jack placed both palms on the desk and peered into her face.
She swallowed and did as he asked. “Yes?”
“Tom just got here,” Penny began. “I got your message. Do you want me to tell him you need to see him?”
“No!” That came out a little louder than she wanted. “I mean, no, Penny. That’s not necessary. I’ll go by and see him in a few minutes. I just wanted to know when he got here.”
“Okay, Cerise. Man, you got here early this morning. Mike, too! That’s rare. Must be something important going on, huh? I mean, since you never get here before me. Do you need coffee or anything?”
Yes. Yes, I need coffee. “No. Not a thing, Penny. Not now.” She crinkled her brow. Her head pounded. “Penny, how did you know Mike was here?”
Mike leaned in. She didn’t look at him. “I heard his voice. I can always tell his voice, even behind closed doors.”
“Oh. Okay.” Busybody. Cerise cradled the receiver before her assistant started in again.
She looked up at Mike and skirted her gaze back and forth between him and Jack. “He’s here.”
“She heard you talking.”
“Just as long as she keeps it quiet for another minute or two.”
The two cops squared themselves and started toward the door. The DA’s hands went to his waist. Jack straightened and looked toward Mike. Cerise stood. The thing gripping her heart earlier rose to her neck. Choking.
She rounded the desk and stood between Jack and Mike. Suddenly she wasn’t sure this was the way she wanted to go at all. “Mike, are you certain this is what has to be done? I mean…”
He grasped her biceps. “Cerise, listen. It is the only way.” He glanced at the DA, who stepped forward.
“Likely he’ll claim you were in on it, Cerise. We don’t feel that is the case. Nothing to indicate it is. But guys like him, you don’t know what they can come up with, how deep his friendships go. He could have fake documents you’ve signed off on. Or he could claim that you were getting a kickback all along, that this non-profit you run is a front. No, there is no other way.”
“But he can still say those things, right? I mean, what if people believe him and not me?”
Jack stepped closer. “You came to us, Cerise. You said you would testify against him. You’re filing charges.”
“I slept with him.”
“Goddammit!” Mike released her and pounded the table.
Cerise stared. “I thought you should know!”
“Shit.” Jack ran a hand of fingers through his hair and paced right, then left again. “Look. This is going down. He’s here. Let’s go get the bastard and sort this out later. I’m getting antsy.”
He wasn’t the only one.
What would Tom do?
Jack and the two cops started for the door. With his hand on her office doorknob, he paused and looked over his shoulder at Mike. “If this tanks, it’s Plan B.” He left with the officers.
Plan B? Cerise angled her gaze at Mike.
“Hopefully we don’t have to go there,” he said.
The trio left and she decided she really didn’t want to know. Maybe all of this would be over in about ten minutes, and she could go home, take a shower, and drink a pot of coffee. Maybe she could grab a thirty-minute nap before she came back in here. They were in the midst of writing a proposal for a government contract, and she couldn’t afford to waste too much more time on this Tom thing.
Of course, she was certain the Tom thing would not bode well for her receiving any federal contracts.
Sighing, she sat on the edge of her desk, gripping and un-gripping the edge.
“You hear anything?”
“No,” Mike said, “but I don’t expect him to make a scene.”
The DA moved toward the door and held up a hand.
A man’s shouts spilled into the outer office. A screech went up. Penny? A thud hit her door. Cerise stood, and Mike put himself between her and the door.
The door flung open, and Tom Hankins stumbled in, yelling and pointing, his face three shades of purple. The two cops tackled him from behind and brought him to the floor.
“You goddamn fucking bitch!” Tom bit out, his face smashed into the floor. “I’ll kill you. I will fucking see to your death.” The officers jerked him to his feet. His glare scared the shit out of her. She grasped Mike’s shirt at the belt and scooted behind him.
He made a good shield. “Get him the fuck out of here!”
Jack and the cops wrestled Tom out the door and through the outer office. Tom shouted accusations with every step. Jack gave Mike a quick nod before he left.
Cerise’s body felt like pudding, sliding toward the floor.
Mike reached for her and took her arm. “All right, Cerise. Listen to me.”
He pivoted and grasped her chin to look her square in the eyes. “Listen to me. You and I, we’re going to walk through the office and get on the elevator. We’re not talking to Penny or anyone else. They’ve got questions we can’t respond to right now. The DA will stay behind and debrief your staff. We’ll be back in touch with him later.”
His hand dropped from her chin to her elbow. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Away. Just for a while.”
“Away?” She stood steadfast. “For how long.”
Mike pursed his lips.
“Mike? How long?”
“I don’t know.”
“I need my purse.”
He shook his head. “No, Cerise. You have to come now. Don’t worry about your things.”
“My Blackberry. I need my Blackberry!”
He led her toward the door. She jerked out of his grasp and faced him. Her heart raced.
“What is going on here?”
Mike grasped her bicep again and gave her a little jerk. “Dammit, Cerise! Shut up.”
Her back bristled and she squared her shoulders. She didn’t like that. Not one bit. No one, not even her attorney, told her to shut up. “You asshole! Let me go!”
He gripped harder, and Cerise glared into his eyes. That’s when she saw the urgency there. “What the fuck is going on?”
“You want to die, Cerise? ‘Cause you must have a death wish. Be quiet and listen to me for once.”
Something in his face made her realize she needed to listen. And obey.
Dammit. Obey was generally not in her vernacular.
“All right, Mike. But when this is finished...”
He gasped her arm, and they moved forward. “When this is finished you will thank me,” he muttered. The DA followed them toward the door.
“No talking until we get on the elevator.”
Shit. Shit! What was going on? Was she in trouble? Were they lying to her? Was she going to jail, too?
There was nothing she could do. She and Mike rushed through the outer office and toward the elevator, all eyes on them, while everything else spun in slow motion. Finally, the elevator door whooshed closed behind them, and she turned to him.
“Talk to me.”
“We need to protect you.”
“You heard Hankins. He said he would kill you. His roots run deep, Cerise.”
Her throat closed up. Tom’s roots did run deep. She knew that. Knew too much about his family. They had, how do you say?—connections. Tom had alluded as much during the few weeks they were sleeping together.
The elevator binged, and the doors swished open. Mike took her arm and led her toward the large glass doors of the office building.
“There is a Yellow Cab parked straight ahead. Number 2223. Look. Do you see it?”
“Walk out these doors and straight toward the cab. I’m not going any further than the doors. You don’t need to be seen with me outside of here. Go directly to the cab, and get in the back. The driver knows where to take you.”
“Mike. I have no money. I need my things.”
“It’s taken care of. Now go.”