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The Hitman’s Angel
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Margaret’s mother split six months ago, leaving her in the clutches of her strip club owner stepfather. Now it’s her eighteenth birthday and he’s informed Margaret that she needs to start earning her keep. And that means giving her first lap dance to a Russian stranger named Lenin. When her mysterious first customer pays thousands above the asking price for her company, then shreds the leather couch with shaking hands to keep from touching her, Margaret begins to wonder if there’s more to the Russian than meets the eye.
And there is. So much more than she could ever imagine. Including the fact that he refuses to let his angel go, now that he’s found her.
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I should have stayed out of sight.
That’s the thought that repeats over and over in my head as I’m being dragged by my elbow down the stairs. My stepfather gives me no chance to gain my footing, so I’m essentially a skidding, flailing blur of awkward limbs. I smack the side of my head off the railing and almost welcome the stars that wink in front of my eyes—they’re a vast improvement after looking at Hank’s disgusted expression.
God, he hates me so much. More than I hate raisins baked into bread.
Why do people insist on ruining good bread?
Hank throws me to the floor and pins me there with a sneer. “You’re done sponging off me, girl. You’re old enough to earn your keep now.” He crosses his battered arms over his T-shirt, which reads Hank’s All-Nude Review. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice the food missing from my refrigerator?”
“How else am I supposed to eat?” I’m not being a smart-ass. It’s an honest question. There’s nowhere else to get food, because he keeps me locked up. “You won’t let me leave.”
He backhands me across the mouth before I can duck. “Don’t sass me, you little brat.”
I lick the blood off my lip, pretending it’s his and not mine. “Sorry.”
“You should be. I tried to do the responsible thing. Your mama took off and I kept you here, safe, for when she came back.” His smile is ugly. “Well, looks like she ain’t coming back and if I’ve got my math right, you’re eighteen now. Time to pay your way or get out.”
“Great. Which way is the door?”
This time, I manage to avoid his flying hand, scuttling back on the floor until I reach the wall of the dingy living room and can go no farther. Never one to let an insult stand, Hank stomps close and leans down, his beer breath bathing my face. “You wouldn’t last an hour out there alone, not a penny to your name.” He points to the window and the rundown streets of Baltimore beyond. “You know what happens to girls who look like you when they ain’t got a man to protect them? They end up on their knees in a public bathroom, just trying to make enough cash to eat off the dollar menu. You’re lucky to have me.”
I was worried about this. Hank has been threatening to kick me out ever since my mother split for Mexico with a new man—a photographer she met downstairs stripping at the Review. Hank is dead in love with my mother. But here’s the thing, hundreds of men have believed themselves in love with my mother since I was a child. She’s a modern-day siren, calling sailors toward the rocks, except she can’t sing for shit. It’s more about her amazing rack.
Anyway. Being in love with my mother is why Hank kept me around. Hoping to earn points if she comes crawling back, broke and regretful. Look at me. I’m the husband and father you need.
It has been six months, though, and my mother hasn’t even called. Obviously Hank had a few drinks and a long-awaited male epiphany this afternoon and realized his lady love is gone for good. I saw this day coming and I had a feeling Hank has been bluffing about kicking me out. Men like Hank don’t cut their losses. No. They’re driven by getting the last word.
Apparently, I’m going to be the last word he gets against my mother.
I’ve been working up my courage for the last six months, just in case he actually stayed true to his threats and booted me to the curb. I could have snuck out my window long before now. Or simply walked out when he passed out drunk on the couch. But—and this pains me to admit—he’s right. I have no survival skills. My mother left my real father thinking she could make it on her own and she was blowing truck drivers within the week.
I don’t want that. I’m terrified of that.
But I’ve finally worked up the bravery to try. To find a job and a cheap place to sleep, until I have enough cash to get out of Baltimore. My other option is to stay in this rank, disgusting place with a man who hates me, thanks to my resemblance to mom. And that’s no option at all. It doesn’t seem like he’s giving me one, anyway.