Get to know Nico and Paige in Hard Limits by Elle Aycart!
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 extremely busy. 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. When a beautiful Vintage bride with racoon eyes and a choke collar, covered from head to military boots in blood, came to him. It looked like the Grim Reaper had gotten a makeover just for him. What an honor.
Who finds a frigging drug lord in serious need of resuscitation while coming back from a bachelorette party at the wee hours? Paige, aka magnet for psychopaths, of course.
The Goth waitress at Rosita’s has already survived a major asshole, narrowly escaping with her life. The last she needs is to have to play Nightingale to a dangerous kingpin. What if he dies on her? Or worse; what if he doesn’t?
“I think that man is calling the cops on us,” Ronnie said, glancing through the window and waving.
Paige leaned against the steering wheel and smiled innocently at the driver in the next car, but it didn’t help. Eyes about to bug out of their sockets, he spoke even faster into his phone, while automatically locking the doors. “We are sooo ending up in jail.”
Who would have guessed people would be more scared of her clad in white than in her normal Goth clothes? Then again, she was wearing a wedding dress splattered with red, Carrie style, and Ronnie was too, so yeah, she could understand the horrified expression in the neighboring car. That they were driving at three o’clock in the morning through the Boston suburbs—makeup all smudged and hair in messy snarls of paint and party—didn’t improve matters.
“Probably,” Ronnie conceded, trying to pat her frizzy curls down. “You better floor it.”
No shit. When the light changed, Paige put the pedal to the metal and soon lost the spooked driver. Whichever came next, the arrest or the speeding ticket, she would let her lovely lunatic of a boss deal with it.
After all, their current predicament was entirely Elle’s fault. She’d declared her bachelorette party would happen in stages over a whole month, the coed paintball game being the first installment. As if the women hadn’t already been an easy mark for those testosterone-ridden, military-trained guys, Elle had made them wear thrift-store wedding gowns over the protective gear. Wrong move. Not even leveling the odds by mixing the teams had helped.
After the shooting fest, looking like vampire gore brides, they’d gone partying downtown. How Elle had gotten them into the club dressed like that, Paige didn’t know, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Elle always got her way. Now, with that ominous weapon of mass destruction called Jack shadowing her 24/7, it was a miracle anyone dared blink at her, regardless of how nuts her requests were.
All in all, a memorable first installment. Paige couldn’t wait to see what was to come. By Jack’s aggrieved looks, he couldn’t either.
Paige glanced at the rearview mirror. No spooked driver, no police cars chasing them. Just empty, quiet road. “We might avoid jail after all.”
“Jail would have been a fitting ending for the night. Can’t believe it didn’t happen before, at the club.”
“You seemed to hit it off with Kai,” Paige said. “How come I’m driving you home and he’s not? Not that I mind. Just curious.”
Ronnie laughed. “Didn’t you see the way Jack looked at him when we were talking? I didn’t want to give my brother a coronary. Besides, better not jinx it now that he’s more relaxed and all that crazy stuff about the drug cartel is over.”
And thank God for that. At the time, when Jack had suddenly started following Elle everywhere, Paige had not known what was going on. Then Elle had gone underground, and James Bowen, Elle’s brother-in-law, had gathered the staff of Rosita’s and informed them he was taking over management of the restaurant temporarily. From then on, there were 250-pound, heavily tattooed bodyguard types on the premises at all hours. In hindsight, no frigging wonder. It was not every day that you had a South American cartel gunning for you.
When all was said and done, Jack had almost lost his life rescuing Elle. Now, though, they were happily in love and about to get married. If the groom or the guests could survive the bachelorette party, that was.
“What about you?” Ronnie asked. “How come you’re driving me home and not with some sexy stranger? You were by far the prettiest bride, the way you Goth-customized the outfit.”
She shrugged. “No one tickled my fancy.”
The last guy who managed that feat had been one of the enforcers for said cartel. The second in command, as she later found out. He had come to Rosita’s to scout the place and had struck up a conversation with her. Nick, oil-rig worker, a reluctant participant on a blind date gone wrong. Extremely handsome, interesting, and easy-going, with a fascinating wit and a deep, husky voice, the man had almost convinced Paige to go out with him.
It figured that the lying psychopath would zero in on her. They always did.
Worst of all? She could still feel how badly she’d wanted him.
“You need to give them a chance,” Ronnie insisted, distracting Paige from her gloomy thoughts. “Talk to them at least. Like that cute guy who kept sending drinks your way even though you kept turning them down.”
A frat boy interested in taking a stroll on the kinky side. No, thank you. Either they ended up disappointed or she freaked out. Both options were unacceptable, really. And unpleasant. Not to mention totally unsexy.
“You need more than drinks to impress a bartender,” Paige answered with a wink.
“So that’s me,” Ronnie said as they turned onto her street, and she pointed at a building. “Thanks for getting me home.”
“No problem. It was on my way.”
Paige would have gone straight home because she was dead on her feet, but she was about to have three days off in a row. She needed to make sure all was in order at Rosita’s, especially as she had been the one closing and at the moment couldn’t recall if she’d verified the lock. Besides, Paige’s colorful roommate was having her boyfriend over. The only thing they did more than fuck was fight, so she was not in too much of a hurry to get into that mess.
She parked in front of the restaurant. Time to make her OCD proud.
The lock on the roller shutter was closed. She opened and closed it again, fixing the moment in her mind, and pulled at it three times to ensure she wouldn’t forget.
Then from the corner of her eye, she detected movement in a nearby parked car, the door ajar.
There was a man inside, hunched over, one leg out.
Probably one of those inebriated morons who thought they drove better intoxicated. She’d met her fair share of those. He didn’t make a sound. No drunken babble or dribble, but it was cold outside. Maybe he was freezing. Or choking on his own vomit.
Paige approached. “Yo, buddy, you okay?”
No answer. The guy wasn’t moving, his head still flung forward. She couldn’t see properly through the window, so she opened the door a bit more, and the huddled figure tipped sideways until his face was half-buried in her stomach. Not cool. At all. She took a step backward and noticed a fresh splotch on her dress. Oh, God. That was blood. Real blood. Thick. Sticky. Dripping from the side of his abdomen too.
She reached for him, and the second she touched him, a strong hand clamped on her forearm.
The man lifted his bloody face to her, his expression a snarl, his deep-blue eyes cold and murderous. Suddenly, he shoved a gun against Paige’s neck.
Oh, shit. She knew that man. “Nick?”
NICO HAD TROUBLE focusing. Everything was blurry. Distorted. He narrowed his eyes, his trigger finger twitching. The image in front of him sharpened little by little: a bride covered in blood. Looked like the Grim Reaper had gotten a makeover just for him. What an honor. Or maybe he was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be the first time tonight.
“It’s me. Paige,” the bride blurted.
Who? He couldn’t recognize the face, but her eyes were strangely familiar. Not sensing any immediate danger, he lowered his gun. It must have been the right call because the bride didn’t grab his weapon and shoot him with it.
He let her go and put pressure on the wound beneath his ribs, his hand sinking into warm blood. How he had any left, he didn’t know.
“You’re bleeding,” he heard her say. “Have you been shot?”
And drugged. Or poisoned. Hell, both probably. He wasn’t sure he could articulate so many words, so he just nodded.
“You need a doctor. A hospital,” she continued.
“No hospital,” he choked out. A hospital meant police. Too many questions. If by any miracle he managed to survive, he didn’t want to wake up in a government black site. Or in a hole in the jungle, compliments of the cartel.
The bride hesitated for a second. “Okay. No hospital. But you can’t stay here.”
That was true. Remaining in the open was a sure death sentence.
Without waiting for his response, she sprinted around the car. Then he heard the door of the passenger side open and felt her beside him.
“Lift your ass when I tell you to,” she ordered, grabbing him by his armpits and taking a deep breath. “Now.”
With the last of his strength, Nico obeyed, gritting his teeth, almost blacking out from the agonizing pain in his side. She was small, but damn if she didn’t manage to drag him over the console onto the passenger seat.
“Sorry,” she whispered, flinching as she helped him bend his knees over the gear shift. Then she ran to the driver’s side, jumped in, and revved the engine.
Nico struggled to keep conscious, but his vision became fuzzy again. Fuck, not now. He had to get to a safe location before he passed out completely. “Where are we going?” Hopefully she was not turning him in, because he was too weak to mount any substantial resistance.
She didn’t answer, just continued driving, throwing furtive glances his way.
He tried to fight the blackness, but he couldn’t. He was drifting away. Resignation blanketed him, dulling his senses as his body started shutting down. He looked at his driver. Vintage wedding dress, covered in blood. Military boots. Spiked choke collar. Crazy hair. Black lips. Weirdly pretty raccoon eyes. He’d always thought the last thing he would see in this world was the snarl of the guy sending him to hell.
If a beautiful Goth bride was the last image he witnessed before biting the big one, he was happy. Considering the life he’d led, it was more than he deserved.