Tossing my purse on the side table, I turned to close the door behind me and lock it.
A man’s arm reached over my head and slammed the door shut.
Letting out a shocked scream, I turned back… and faced a pair of platinum gray eyes.
“Hello, Gwen.” His voice was dark and low… ruthlessly controlled.
I opened my mouth to scream again.
Julius’ hand wrapped around my throat as he leaned in close.
“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. I can’t have you screaming like that, baby.”
“What do you want, Julius?” I rasped, his grip on my throat an uncomfortable threat.
“I think it is time for new introductions. My name is Ethan Hale.”
He paused. I could see him searching my eyes for any sign of recognition. As if I should know who he was, but I didn’t. Fuck, why didn’t I know who this man was?
“And you are Piper Clayton,” he finished.
“I didn’t take any money. I never put the sale through,” I rushed to explain, assuming he was angry I had conned him.
Who the hell was this man and how the fuck was he able to find out my real name and where I live?
Oh my god, the dollhouse. The fucking dollhouse. Was he responsible?
“This isn’t about the money, Piper. I want something far more valuable than money from you.”
Without thought, I tried to scream again.
His hand closed around my throat, cutting off my air. My fingers clawed at the back of his hands as I struggled to breathe. Slowly, my body slid up the wall as he used his grip on my throat to lift me off the floor. The pressure on my windpipe increased.
“You’ve been a very bad little girl, Piper. I won’t tolerate any more disobedience. Do you understand?”
His grasp on my throat prevented me from speaking or nodding, so I blinked my eyes to show him I did.
He lowered me to the floor and slackened his grip. After he could see I would no longer try to cry out, he lowered his arm. Straightening his cuffs, he ordered, “Now be a good girl and invite me in for a chat.”
Giving him a dirty look, I responded stiffly, my voice hoarse. “Won’t you come in?”
Taking a step forward, I began to shake as I felt his presence directly behind me.
This was bad. Very bad.
I needed to reach my bed. Under the pillow was a .38 special Quinn had given me a few years ago. Taking a few more hesitant steps, I waited till I was close then lunged for the mattress. Falling across it on my stomach, I slid my hand under the pillow.
There was nothing there.
Horrified, I turned on my back and looked up at Ethan. He was standing close to the bed, legs spread wide as he towered over my prone form. Reaching behind him, he pulled the revolver free from his waistband.
“Looking for this?”
With a cry, I rolled onto my stomach and tried to scramble away across the rumpled bed sheets. He grabbed my ankle and pulled me toward him. Reaching down, he fisted my hair and lifted me up.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” I cried out as I reached up to try and dislodge his grasp.
Ethan dragged me across the room and pushed me against one of the wide, timber support beams which dotted my loft space.
I watched as he inhaled deeply but said nothing. As if he needed a moment to control his emotions. This was not a man to piss off, I reminded myself, especially if he knew something about David’s murder.
As I waited for his next move, I looked him over. Similar to yesterday at the gallery, he was wearing another custom-made suit. The clean black lines accentuated his broad shoulders and muscled arms. The sharp angles of his jawline and lowered brow heightened the sense of dangerous power he exuded.
I stayed silent. My fingers gripped the smooth wood of the beam behind me in an effort to ground myself and my rioting emotions.
“Little girls who lack discipline tend to get themselves in trouble… very dangerous trouble.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t you?” he challenged as his fingers undid the first button of my cardigan.
“Please. Please don’t hurt me.”
Ethan looked into my eyes. I could feel his warm fingers brush my skin as he undid another button.
“If you don’t want me to hurt you, then you need to be honest with me.”
“I don’t know what you want!”
I watched as his eyes flashed with anger and unmistakable need.
Grabbing my jaw with his full hand, he pushed my head back till it connected with the beam. I watched in captive silence as his gaze moved from my eyes to my open lips and back.
“I want you to say that you were a very bad little girl.”