She abandoned her family to keep them safe.
He betrayed his father to keep him out of jail.
And their fate is about to throw in a new curveball.
Skyler Waters is in danger and it’s not because she works for one of the most powerful men in Manhattan. Even though her boss is a crook, she depends on the money to keep her safe and hidden from someone even more dangerous than her boos: a vengeful half-brother.
Eager to bring honor to his family name, Cash Wagner is determined to remove his father from power by eliminating the family’s illegal business. When Skyler Waters falls victim to his father’s operation, Cash is eager to fix everything and prove himself to both Skyler, and his family.
While Cash's motives are blurred, Skyler realizes that she has much more in common with the gorgeous man who flips her life upside down than she thought. When an opportunity to make enough money to keep her safe for years comes up, she agrees to help Cash with one last assignment.
Except the job she’s agreed to has been waiting for her for two long years.
And it may be her last.
Read about Skyler and Cash’s unexpected romance and quest for peace as they join forces to outrun and outsmart criminals, in Crossed Off.
Warning: This novel contains adult content. Crossed Off is the last novel in the Crossed Series which should be read in order.
The largest Jackpot in Las Vegas history was going to win tonight, but I didn’t want the three hundred and eighty million dollar pool. I had to settle for the five million prize that would sound off on the quarter slots just after midnight. It was the only way I could complete my assignment without drawing attention. Once the job was done and I got paid, my share of the win would be enough to get a new security system. This would be my largest payout yet.
I paced the room from the door to the floor-to-ceiling window and back. From the corner of my eye, the analog clock on the wall seemed to slow at each turn I took. Both glow-in-the-dark handles almost touched at twelve. Beyond the window, the colorful lights of the Vegas Strip illuminated the room. I should have stopped to admire the night’s skyline for a bit longer than a split second, but I’d be back here soon enough, at a different casino, for another assignment. I tapped my wristwatch. The thin second hand still moved. This win didn’t make me nervous. With the instructions I got, it was pretty much in the bag. But the anticipation of how much attention I could divert from myself to complete the task could only equate to how a murderer felt when they’d just killed someone in city square and all road exits were blocked. And I knew exactly what that felt like. I took a bite of the chocolate bar I got earlier from the vending machine in the hall.
Keep it simple. Get the money. Get out. I’d repeated this mantra in my head for the past two years. It was the only way for me to keep safe and stay hidden. My previous jobs for Mr. Wagner didn’t pay as much as this one would, but they were enough to survive. For someone with no education, I was happy to have a job at all.
Another few minutes and Harry would be at my door. I could already hear the machine ringing, flashing its Winner, Winner sign repeatedly. I’d met Harry at the Starbucks across the street from The Mirage. I came out here to scout for willing participants three weeks earlier. When I “accidently” dropped a twenty dollar bill and he picked it up, returning the money to me, I knew he was my guy. Besides, with a name like Harry, there was no way I could go wrong, could I?
It took very little of my female persuasion to get him to help me, and with a few white lies and tender moments of batting my lashes like a damsel in distress, Harry agreed. Hiring just the right person to do the job was crucial to coming out of this alive. See, when you usually mention to someone that they can make a truckload of money in one night, people tend to change. They ask too many questions, get nervous, and I don’t like questions. Harry had that easy surfer attitude about him. Sometimes I wondered whether he was stoned when I first met him. Not that it mattered. All that was important was that I trusted my instinct. And so far, over the past two years of constant hiding, it hadn’t disappointed me.
From the moment I met him, I could tell that Harry was a good guy with a conscience. He wouldn’t give me away or look for me afterward. In fact, when he opened my door as we walked into the restaurant last night and as he stood up when I wanted to go to the ladies’ room, it made me pause and remember how happy I’d once been with another honest man; a man who was not only your best friend but would also die for you or your sister. Harry was one of those guys you had to comb through millions to find, but unfortunately I had no room for a man in my life.
I spun on my heel and looked in the mirror, tucking in the dark strand of hair that slipped from under the blond wig.
“There you go,” I said to the spray-tanned reflection, reapplying a brighter shade of red to my lips. The only part that had me frowning was that Harry could be persuaded by the blonde bitch I tried to portray. Give a man a hint of pussy action, and they’re your toy to play with. I took another bite of the chocolate bar. At this point, the more sugar I had in my system, the easier it would be to pull through this.
I sighed. “Oh well, hopefully he’ll find someone who can appreciate a little bit of chivalry. And I will be long gone.”
Tonight, the bigger jackpot would camouflage my quiet exit. It was a good distraction, and I would leave as soon as the transfer was complete, which would be right about... I looked at my watch again, gently tapping its face... now.
“Come on, come on,” I murmured, fixating my eyes on the door. It was already forty-five past the hour—more than enough time to collect the prize.
The pam-pararum-pum, pum, pum tempo of our preapproved knock vibrated through my body. This was it. It didn’t matter how many times I did a job, the nerves would never ease. But since I’d kept quiet about the business, and had a natural talent for what they called “sticky fingers,” my boss said I was the best of the best.
I ran through the hall, nearly tripping over my own feet and flattened my ear against the door.
“Who is it?” I asked with my hand already on the handle.
“It’s Harry, Ms. Dana.” The twenty-one-year-old replied. I opened the door swiftly and grabbed Harry by his square shoulders to pull him inside. His slick, medium-length hair didn’t even move from the jolt.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I won... I mean, we won!” His mouth curved up, revealing a straight line of bleached teeth. The dimples in his cheeks deepened. If I only had time to let my guard down, Harry would have me swooning at his every gentle move.
“Shh... keep it down.” I peeked to the outside hall in both directions. The corridor was empty. I shut the door and turned the lock, then I wiggled the handle—just in case. It didn’t budge.
“Did you ask them to transfer the funds the way I told you?”
“Yes, Ms. Dana,” he replied, politely waiting for my next set of instructions.
I was sure men like Harry were extinct. I’d definitely struck gold when I found him. Too bad I couldn’t use him more than once. It was my rule. One job. One guy. Zero witnesses. No contact.
Keep it simple. Get the money. Get out.
I sat down to my laptop. A few keystrokes later, there it was. Four million nine hundred thousand dollars. A full five million less what we agreed Harry would keep. I closed the computer and started throwing my few belongings into the suitcase.
“It’s the quickest hundred grand I’ve ever seen made.” He grinned as I rushed around the room. I should have packed earlier but chose to bite my nails instead. “How did you know?”
I ignored his question. This wasn’t up for a discussion. Not with anyone. Besides, we agreed: no questions.
“Make sure you don’t spend it all at once, Harry. Money doesn’t always come this easy.” Harry moved in a few steps closer to where I was standing. His weight shifted from one foot to another. I hesitated to look at him, but finally picked up my gaze, connecting with his aqua eyes that bordered on silver. They reminded me of my own—ones that were hidden underneath the hazel contacts, that is. With that single look, the atmosphere in the room shifted from a simple business transaction to thick lust. Whatever was going on in his mind, it wasn’t pure any more. I saw a hint of that fierce lion I’d imagined him to be and got tingling goose bumps on my arms.
“Ms. Dana, uhm, do you think I could maybe....” He hesitated, and I knew what was coming. “If you have some time, you know... you look a bit younger than you said. And I’ve had experience with older women before, you know.” He looked directly at my fully open mouth as I stared. My expression didn’t help avoid the kinds of thoughts I saw meandering in Harry’s eyes: in particular, the thoughts about my round lips, which by the bulge in his pants I could only guess he had imagined around his crown.
Oh God! Where did that come from?
“Could I see you sometime?” he spat out.
“Harry,” I said calmly, deepening my voice like a thirty-five-year-old who’s being propositioned by a younger man should. Perhaps adding seven years to my age was a bit too much? “I’m flattered, but we had an agreement.” Keep it simple, please keep it simple.
“Of course, I just thought, you know, we worked so well together. Maybe we—”
“It’s just impossible, hun,” I said maturely, walking over to pat him on the cheek, a bit harder than intended. “You’re a good kid. One day you’ll make a special girl very happy, but I don’t play cougar.” I turned around to put on the sleeveless waterfall jacket to cover my cleavage. I zipped up the suitcase in haste, breaking off a plastic nail. I guessed chewing on them wasn’t the best idea after all.
Shit! I don’t have time for this. Facing him once more, I said, “Like we agreed, from now on you have never heard of me and have never seen me. Just pretend I don’t exist.” At this point, my blunt mouth was my best weapon. I couldn’t allow anyone in my life. Not now and not ever. Especially someone I hired for a job—one job.
“It would have been good.” He sighed, focusing back on the busy strip below.
I bet it would. The muscles bulging on his arms and hard chest were like extra props he carried around with him. I felt my cheeks heat at the offer and the lustful promise his voice held, but I didn’t lift my face to show it. Okay, so he was a good-looking guy that a girl my age should have been attracted to. In fact, he didn’t look as young as he said he was, either. I’d already pictured him without the Hawaiian T-shirt a few times tonight. For the amount of fabric, he sure filled it out well. If he wore a polo shirt, he’d pass for a peer of my true age. I peeked back at his silhouette, thankful I could only see his back as he admired the city lights.
Tall, lean, well-defined, blond curls, strong arms—very strong arms. I let my mind wonder what those arms could do. Now that I looked a bit closer at Harry, his entire body was like a beacon lit specifically for women. And those dimples when he smiled—argh—absolutely begged to be kissed. The frustration taking over my body as I wondered what other delicious beauty marks he owned was beginning to bug me. A sweet rush of hormones ran between my breasts, down to below my navel, and I shook it off.
What did Taylor say? Shake it off? I just didn’t have time for frivolous relationships and one-night stands. And I didn’t want them, either. My life was too complicated. I could come up with tons of reasons why I couldn’t get involved, but only one stood out—my fucking half-brother.
“Harry, I’m sure you have plenty of girls who’d love to go out with you. You don’t need an old woman to keep you occupied while beautiful ones are at your fingertips.” Girls who don’t need to wear wigs, a set of perfect veneers, or prosthetic noses as a disguise.
“Thanks, Ms. Dana. You’re the coolest thirty-five-year-old I’ve ever met.” He showed his white teeth again. He must have had them bleached every day.
“Go on home, Harry. It was a pleasure working with you.” I pulled out my hand. He shook it firmly, but the touch was tender. I was glad the hairs standing at my nape were hidden underneath the hairpiece. I chose Harry on purpose. He was kind and wouldn’t screw me—at least not the way I imagined him screwing me. But I didn’t expect his jaw-dropping body to affect me so much. Guilt dripped over me in the form of sweat. At this rate, I’d need another shower before I left, for which of course I had no time.
“It was a pleasure working with you too, Ms. Dana.” The huskiness of his voice turned to a comforting hum as he made his way toward the door. It flowed through my body, touching every nerve. There was something odd about his tone. It deepened and lowered at the same time—or maybe I’d let him overstay his welcome in my hotel room and my mind was beginning to play tricks on me.
“Uhm, Ms. Dana?”
“If there is ever anything I can do for you, please call me.” He stressed the anything.
“Of course.” I smiled, giving him unnecessary hope.
As soon as I heard the elevator door close with Harry in it, I let the extra air out of my lungs.
Holy shit! Today, was by far the most difficult job I’d done, and I wondered whether I was losing my touch. I had to get a grip. While I was certain that my nerves were caused by the upcoming anniversary, I couldn’t let that derail me. I promised myself to keep my distance from my family, and I wouldn’t fail. It didn’t matter how much my heart ached for them. Staying far away had kept them safe thus far. This job was one of the few things that had kept me safe. I’d learned how to blend in with the crowd and stay camouflaged. I was the one mouse my half-brother would never catch, and while keeping him preoccupied with finding me, I also kept him away from those I loved.
I shook off the dread, picked up my travel suitcase, peaked back at the bright skyline, and left. Now for the third part of my mantra: get out. Stuffing the last bite of my chocolate bar into my mouth, I relished in the way the crisp wafers blended with the melting chocolate in my mouth. It gave me that last ounce of a much-needed sugar boost into my veins.
The lobby of The Mirage was busy, just like it would’ve been during the day. I checked out online to avoid the front desk. If I could, I would run across the marble floor to avoid any possible confrontation.
Don’t panic; no one knows who you are, I thought, controlling my casual stroll. The overused wheels of my suitcase wobbled from side to side, and I made a mental note to buy a new one. I regarded the entrance from underneath the white oversized hat.
The doorman smiled politely. “Good night.”
I nodded with a forced grin.
The sounds of the bustling Strip curled along my skin. It’d been so long since I gave in to life and relaxed for long enough to have fun. Truthfully, I don’t think I’d ever had fun. At least not as myself. Instead, I let the imposter I chose to be to lead the life that I couldn’t. I didn’t sleep around, but if the job called for it, and if the stakes were high enough, good-looking enough, and clean, then I’d allow them to get to second base. It was usually enough to do my job and keep the pawn satisfied. It wasn’t like I could get involved with anyone, so this was the only way I could make things work. Why rely on the old vibrator to relieve myself? But it had been so long since the skills of a sexy man had been required; I was beginning to wonder whether I’d still remember how to do the deed. Maybe it was time to buy a set of new batteries?
If I stayed this uptight any longer, I swore my vagina would shut permanently. It’d already been bugging me around Harry, tingling and seeping. As if I had time for that! I couldn’t let my guard down until the money was out of my hands, but I definitely needed to consider hooking up before the next job—otherwise, I had a feeling I’d begin making the wrong decisions, and that could cost me my life.
I stepped toward the limo at the curb as the driver packed my small suitcase into the trunk. Doesn’t anyone sleep in this town? Of course not. I, on the other hand could fall asleep standing up.
Couples strolled with twined hands, laughing and talking and halving fun. For a moment, a split second only, I let myself wonder what it’d be like to have a normal life, a respectful boyfriend, and a regular job. But my life was nothing close to normal, and the fewer people who knew the truth, the better. Besides, I wasn’t ready to move on. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be.
“Airport, please,” I said to the driver.
“My pleasure,” the middle-aged man replied, holding my gaze for a bit longer than I felt comfortable with. This was the moment I resented not changing into my jeans, and so I crossed my legs, stretching them out to conceal my panties underneath my mini. I didn’t trust the black window between us either and unfortunately in this short skirt I would have to stand any glares until I returned home where I could transform back to a twenty-eight-year-old Skyler Waters.