Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(7)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(7)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

The girl let out a small, surprised squeak and tried to wrench her hand from his grip, but Preacher easily held her in place. In her other hand, a small blade flicked free from its sheath, glinting as it caught the light from the diner. Preacher took a moment to eye the weapon: a flimsy, rusted little thing he’d bet his bike wasn’t sharp enough to do more than clean his nails.

“What’s that you got there? A toothpick?” He smirked at her.

Long, limp hair framed a face smudged with dirt. A pair of tired brown eyes, flashing fear and resentment, met his. Her juicy-looking lips twisted bitterly.

A sense of familiarity slithered through Preacher—he knew a street rat when he saw one. Life on the road curses everyone, young and old, male and female, with the same expression—one part weary, one part bitter, two parts desperate.

But for a road-weary thief, she sure was cute.

He slid his gaze down her figure, taking in her flannel shirt and dirty jeans, worn straight through at the knees. The baggy clothes mostly hid her, but not so much that he couldn’t see the outline of feminine curves beneath. An army-issued sack, bulging with her belongings, was slung smartly across her back.

“That’s mine,” he said. Plucking his wallet from her grasp, he released her wrist.

She jumped backward and stepped to the side, keeping her gaze locked with his. He remained where he stood, making a show of tucking his wallet inside his jacket’s inner breast pocket. Still smirking, he gave his pocket a firm pat.

The fear in her gaze was nearly gone now. Through narrowed eyes she assessed him, her expression conveying that she didn’t quite know what to make of the situation. Thoroughly amused now, Preacher was contemplating giving her a few dollars when a gruff shout interrupted his thoughts.

“Found her! Over here, boys, over here!” A broad-shouldered, heavyset man was storming toward them. His red face bulging with fury, he was making a big show of waving around a baseball bat.

Unimpressed, Preacher eyed him beneath furrowed brows. “Friend of yours?” he asked the girl.

“I saw you, you little bitch!” the man growled, pointing his bat at the girl. “Hand over the bag!” He angled the bat in Preacher’s direction. “You too!”

“Hey now,” Preacher started to say, “I didn’t…”

“Gimme the bags, you thieving shits!” the man bellowed.

There was no way in hell Preacher was going to hand his bag over, and judging by the look on the girl’s face, she wasn’t going to be giving hers up either. Not without a fight.

Preacher rolled his shoulders. Fine. A fight was just fine with him. Growing up with brothers had left him well acquainted with solving problems with his fists. And if things got really out of hand, he had a blade in his boot big enough to send Red here crying back to whatever rig he’d crawled out of.

Jaw locked, fists clenched, Preacher was ready to step forward when he heard the clatter of footsteps approaching. A quick glance over his shoulder showed him two more men had joined their group, one brandishing a tire iron.

Cursing under his breath, Preacher glanced briefly up at the sky. First the rain and now this shit? Someone up there must really have it out for him.

“We’ll be takin’ the bags,” the man holding the tire iron spat. “Make it easy on yourselves and hand ‘em over.” All three men were slowly advancing, creating a triangle formation around him and the girl.

“You need to run,” Preacher breathed.

Panic-stricken eyes met Preacher’s. “What?”

Red lunged and swung, and Preacher barely had enough time to duck. Grabbing the girl’s arm, he thrust her forward just in time to duck another swing of the bat.

“Run!” he shouted. He ducked again, spinning around, and exploded back upright. His fist cracked the face of the man now closest to him—the one without a weapon. Propelled by Preacher’s punch, he staggered backward as Preacher turned his attention to the man holding the tire iron. With a shout, Preacher barreled into him, sending them both sprawling on the wet cement. They hit the ground hard, the man beneath him taking the brunt of the fall while Preacher wrenched the iron from his grip.

He’d managed to bring himself to his knees when pain suddenly exploded in his shoulder.

“You scum-sucking lowlifes!” Red shouted, readying his bat.

His arm burning, fighting to keep hold of the iron, Preacher dropped to the ground and rolled away, narrowly avoiding the next swing of the bat. Wood met concrete and Red let loose a string of curses.

Preacher jumped to his feet. “Back off,” he growled, raising the iron, poised to swing. The two men glanced at one another and neither moved.

Realizing they were one man short, Preacher halted. As if on cue, a shrill cry sliced through the dark lot, and Preacher’s eyes swung toward the noise. Sandwiched between two 18-wheelers, some sort of struggle was occurring.

Son of a bitch. Apparently he hadn’t punched the asshole hard enough.

Seconds ticked by while Preacher wondered how wise it would be to just barrel straight into Red and his friend, hopefully knocking them both flat, allowing him to take off running.

“I called the police!” a woman shouted. A waitress poked her head out the door, and half the diner’s occupants were congregated around the window.

Preacher released a string of muttered curses. The cops were the very last people he wanted to deal with right now. Once the local law got wind of him having served time, there was no doubt in his mind that they’d pin the full blame for this debacle on him. He’d just barely gotten out of prison, and he wasn’t inclined to go back anytime soon.

With the threat of being put behind bars looming, Preacher threw caution to the wind and rushed forward, clipping Red in the gut with his elbow as he blew past him. A hand grabbed at the bag on his back, and he threw all his weight into shoving the man aside. He felt the swish of air as the bat swung and managed to spin around, catching Red in his meaty middle. Grunting, Red lost his momentum.

“Behind you! He’s comin’ up behind you!” The warning shouts followed Preacher as he tore across the parking lot.

Still grappling with the girl, the man attempted to turn toward the noise, but Preacher was already upon him. Skidding to a stop, gripping the tire iron with two hands, Preacher sent the metal bar swinging into the man’s lower back.

Roaring in pain, the man spun around and toppled over. A quick glance behind showed Preacher Red and company were headed their way. Grabbing the girl’s arm, he yanked her to him. “We need to go!” he shouted.

“My bag!” She screamed, thrashing in his grip. “Where’s my bag?”

He tightened his hold on her. “They called the cops!” he bellowed. “We’ve got to go!”

“No!” She tried to pull free again. “I need my bag! Where’s my bag?”

“Fuck your bag! Are you deaf? They called the cops! We have to go!”

She paused, barely breathing, and looked up at him with wide, savage eyes. A trail of blood trickled from her swollen bottom lip down to her chin. Her flannel shirt was hanging open, and the T-shirt beneath was torn and gaping at the collar. Then she blinked.

“But…my bag…” It was barely a whisper, all her fight gone.

Preacher was done listening. The moment she’d gone limp, he’d started running, dragging her along beside him.

They’d just hit the highway, swallowed up into the darkness when the skies opened up again.

Chapter 4

Franklin Deluva Sr. slipped his hands into his pockets and glanced up at the starless sky. Better known to others as “Frank,” or “Ghost” for his uncanny ability to slip in and out of places unseen and unheard, his black leather riding boots pounded a nearly silent rhythm on the rain-dampened sidewalks. The darkened streets of Philadelphia were quiet and nearly empty at this time of night, and his business had wrapped up hours ago.

He should have been thrilled that everything had gone according to the book; he’d delivered the goods, and all money owed to the Silver Demons had been paid in full, right down to the last red cent. But he was far from thrilled. There were other things weighing heavily on his mind, shrouding his thoughts beneath a dome of static—static that would grow louder and louder until it would be all Frank would hear.

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