Grace wasn’t too good with people, but like many introverts, she was an observer. What she saw before her was patience and regret with an overlay of pain and fatigue. No cruelty or craziness.
“Okay,” she said softly. “Let’s go in.”
Drake kept himself upright by sheer willpower. That, and searing, devastating guilt that he’d ruined the life of this beautiful woman. It wasn’t a coincidence that his attackers had come while he was out in the alley watching her in the gallery and that they used her to get to him. He knew who they were, too. Undoubtedly, Dmitri Rutskoi was behind this.
Rutskoi had come prancing into his office expecting to be made Drake’s lieutenant and hadn’t taken it well when Drake had thrown him out. Drake knew Rutskoi. He was a true soldier. If he’d made it his mission to go after Drake, he wouldn’t stop until one of them was dead. And he’d undoubtedly partnered up with Drake’s direct competitor in the Americas, Enrique Cordero. Drake had recognized two of Cordero’s goons.
Somehow Rutskoi knew about Grace, which meant that Rutskoi and Cordero were willing to go through her to get to him.
The thought terrified him. It was worse than the wound in his shoulder. He’d been shot before and he knew this was nasty but not serious. A few days of rest and he’d be fine. But the thought of Grace falling into the hands of his enemies, of being maimed or tortured or killed because of him—it drove him crazy.
It had taken all his willpower to stay still in the elevator to allow Grace to choose to enter his domain. He and only he could offer safety. Offering her a choice was the only gift he could give her and it was a false one, because if she had balked, he’d have ordered his men to carry her in by force, even kicking and screaming. He’d have hated it, but he’d have done it, no question.
The alternative, letting her go, was unthinkable. Right now, the only safe place for her on this earth was by his side. Anywhere else, and she was a gorgeous target, a bull’s-eye painted right on that smooth forehead.
He watched her face, making sure nothing showed on his.
She was swaying a little, shaking with adrenaline aftermath and cold, arms locked around her midriff, as if she needed comfort only she could give herself. Some flash of intuition told him that she often did this—held herself because no one else did.
It was one of the most shocking things he knew about her. Her essential solitude, so unusual for a woman who looked like her. From what he’d been able to see, her closest friend had been Harold Feinstein and now he was dead. She’d watched his head explode.
The harsh overhead elevator light showed up every scratch, every drop of blood on her pale skin. He could clearly see the broken skin at her temple where the muzzle and front sights of the SIG had ripped a hole. Her left cheekbone was rubbed raw from where he’d tried to grind her face into the pavement in an effort to make sure she didn’t present a target.
She was shocked, pale, hurt and bleeding. Shaking, hair wet and muddy, clothes dirty and torn.
Even so, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
He punched the button and the doors of the elevators opened. Drake couldn’t see any of his men but he knew they were close.
Grace looked as if she would shatter if he touched her. Her skin was waxen, the bruises shockingly dark against the preternaturally pale skin. Did he dare put his arm around her? He didn’t want to scare her, but she looked as if she would fall down in the next minute if he didn’t do something fast.
He compromised by taking her arm and walking forward. She came along, stumbling slightly.
They crossed the big, empty hall. It was brightly lit and had security cameras all around the ceiling molding, watched over 24/7 by a team of nine men in the basement, working in shifts of three. Drake punched in a seven-digit code, then put his palm against a glass panel in the wall. The panel flashed a brilliant green. Putting a hand to the big steel door, he swung it open easily, testimony to the excellent hinges, considering the fact that it weighed 1,000 pounds. It was built to the exact same specifications as the vault in the basement of most Citibanks.
They crossed the threshold.
“Welcome,” he murmured and watched her eyes widen at the three-story atrium.
If at any time in the past year Drake had dared to imagine crossing his threshold with Grace Larsen on his arm, it would have been after a date, though God knows he didn’t date. But still, at times he allowed himself dreams in his own head. Who was to know? So he had imagined a nice dinner in the private rooms of an elegant restaurant, afterward perhaps a drink at a private jazz club, then home.
Home. In his home. It was only in the deepest stretches of the most sleepless nights that he allowed himself to imagine Grace in his home. He never brought women here. This was his sanctuary.
There was another luxury flat in another building where he brought his women. Smaller, because he didn’t live there, just fucked there. Anonymous as a luxury hotel room, which was fine, because the women were anonymous. Good for sexual release, but that was about it. He rarely had sex with the same woman twice. Lately, it simply hadn’t been worth the possible breach in security and he’d substituted his fist. And even that had become rare.
He’d have said that his sex drive had died before its time if it weren’t for the fact that just touching Grace Larsen’s torn jacket, knowing her arm was underneath, made his cock twitch. If he hadn’t lost a whole shitload of blood, it would have been a full-blown erection.
Grace turned to him, her beautiful mouth an O. She clutched his arm, as if ready to take his entire weight if he collapsed, though she never could. “You’ve got to sit down while I call an ambulance. We should have gone straight to the hospital, I don’t know why we were brought here, you’ve lost so much blood—”
The ringing in his pants stopped her in mid-sentence. Drake placed a finger against her mouth as he pulled out his cell phone with his other hand. He flipped it open, grimacing at the sight of his blood-stained finger against her mouth. He pulled his hand away from her.
“Dr. Kane is on his way up, sir.”
Drake closed his eyes in relief and flipped the cell closed. “A doctor is on his way up right now,” he said gently. “He’ll take care of you.”
“Me?” Those beautiful eyes opened in astonishment. “I don’t need taking care of, for heaven’s sake. It’s you who’s been shot. You’ve been bleeding like a stuck pig. In fact,” she said, frowning, “it’s a miracle you’re still on your feet. How—”