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“Where’s the woman this was stolen from?” I rise to my feet along with the stubborn signorina, arms around her, ready to catch her if she should fall.

Instead of thanking me, she pushes at my touch irritably—and weakly.

“Really, Matteo?” The sharp clack of a shoe tapping on marble tile has my teeth grinding together. I spare a glance in the direction of Emilia, who is standing to the side of the crowd, nose wrinkled with distaste. “You can’t get on the plane until you’ve cleaned up. I’m taking it to Milan next week, and I don’t want to wait for blood to be cleaned from the upholstery.”

I’m not surprised by Emilia’s response—for the ten years I’ve known her, she’s been inclined to lash out first, ask questions later. But while normally I would simply roll my eyes and ignore her, this time I find anger heating my veins.

The girl in my arms was stabbed trying to help someone. Does Emilia have no feelings at all?

“Not now, Emilia.” I tighten my hold as the girl tries to pull away from me.

“I can’t miss my flight!” Her voice is full of panic. “I’ve been waiting for this seat sale forever. It’s non-refundable. All of my things are already on the plane!”

Emilia laughs, probably at the idea that all of one’s possessions could possibly fit on a plane at all, let alone in the bag or two that I suspect are all that this girl has.

Ignoring my stepsister, I try to gather the girl in my arms. Though she still fights it, when her hot, smooth skin presses against mine, something electric jolts through me, taking me by surprise.

Emilia isn’t one to be ignored. “Guess you’ll be at the board meeting after all.” Grinding my teeth together, I give in, turning to glare at her. She smirks, making even that look sexy, and in that moment I hate her.

And damn it, she’s right. I groan, as I realize that now I’m stuck.

All for a stubborn scrap of a girl who’s eyeing the paramedics like they’re the spawn of Satan.

“I’m telling you, I can’t afford it.” Pushing out of my arms, she staggers a few feet, then lurches to a stop. “I’m perfectly fine.”

Turning back to me, she holds out one of her hands, which is tacky with congealing red.

“Hey, look.” Her face is full of amazement, as if she has no idea why she is bleeding, and she sways back and forth. “Blood.”

I have no choice but to catch her as she falls.

Chapter Two

RILEY

A SEA OF SILVER swims in front of my eyes when I finally pry the lids open. I blink, willing my vision to clear. But my eyelids feel gritty, raw, like sandpaper scraping over my corneas.

Pushing myself up onto my elbows, I rub my fingers over my eyes until the grainy sensation stops.

But the silver is still there. It’s everywhere, in fact... in the embossed wallpaper that stretches up fifteen feet, in the plush looking carpet that invites me to sink my toes in. It’s in the gauzy curtains that hang at the window that spans an entire wall, and in the satin covered headboard that’s propping me up from behind, the one with antique looking studs.

It’s even in the chandelier hanging over my head—holy hell, yes, that is a full on crystal chandelier, a giant death trap, right above me.

For some reason I fixate on that first—on how this giant piece of uselessness could kill me if it falls—before my brain allows me to contemplate the fact that I have no idea where I am, and that I feel like I’ve been drugged.

Shifting on the bed, I take note of the satin sheets—silver, of course, mustn’t mess up the color scheme—and frown. My sheets, before I gave up my apartment at least, were threadbare in several places, and a heinous bright plaid. They clashed spectacularly with all the other colors that I crowded in. But I’d always craved that kind of visual chaos.

The kind that was the exact opposite of my current surroundings.

Toto, something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Sucking in a deep breath, I close my eyes, press my fingers to my temples, try to remember. The airport—the scream of an elderly woman—bright pain—blood.

And strong arms catching me as I fell.

“Shit.” Pulling back the sheet, smoothing my snarled hair back from my shoulder, I find it—the place where the knife sliced through my flesh, concealed by a wide square of gauze secured with surgical tape.

I grimace as I peel back the sticky edges. The gauze is stuck to my skin, crusted with dried blood, and when I pull it away I can’t stop from crying out as it tugs on the wound.

The cut itself is puffy, a long line the exact shade of my favorite Cadmium Red oil paint, telling me that the blade went deeper than I’d initially thought. But it’s sewn up neatly with blue thread, the stitches marching tidily along the angry slice in my skin, and I can see the shiny gloss of ointment.

The wooziness I feel likely comes from medication of some kind... an antibiotic, which always makes me nauseous, and maybe a painkiller.

Panic is a thousand tiny needles jabbing into the softness of my belly. I can’t afford medication, or the doctor’s bill—I just graduated from art school. I’m broke, having spent my last available cash on my flight home.

When the rest of the scene in the airport flashes through my mind, my heart clenches, then sinks. I scrimped and saved and aggressively hunted down that bargain airfare, my ticket back home. I gambled, knowing it was non-refundable—but I hadn’t been able to think of a single thing that would keep me away from that flight.

And now it’s gone. I have no apartment anymore, no money, no job. No way home. And no one at home to help me out.

I am well and truly fucked.

And, I realize as I squirm in the bed, I am naked. In what I assume is the bed of Mr. “I’ll Pay Your Bills”.

“Oh, shit.” What the hell happened after I blacked out?

A low chuckle disrupts the still air, and I whip my head in the direction of the sound.

It’s him. The guy who got my blood all over his sweater, one of those garments that you just know cost more than my entire year’s tuition.

I’ll never be able to replace it for him, no matter how much I hate owing anyone anything. Just like I’ll never be able to pay him back for the medical attention that I’ve clearly received.

Not with money, anyway. The thought makes me stiffen, a rod of steel snapping into place in my spine.

I open my mouth to say something... probably to give him hell, because he’s done exactly the opposite of what I told him to do. Instead my brain chooses to narrow in on the one thing that’s making me super uncomfortable.

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