A desperate man with nothing to lose…

“Swan’s gutsy, jaw-dropping style will have readers talking!”
New York Times bestselling author Larissa Ione

“Gripping, gritty, no holds barred romantic suspense…”
New York Times bestseller Stephanie Tyler

“Fans of The Fugitive and Heroes won’t be able to pass up this smart, sexy, page-turning read.”
—Elisabeth Naughton, double RITA nominee

“…a wild (and sizzling) ride.”
—Bestselling author, Bonnie Hearn Hill

Dr. Alyssa Foster will admit to a bad boy fetish…

But when she finds herself face to face with a convicted murderer with a ripped body, a determination for freedom and an eye on her as his get out of jail free card, Alyssa knows she’s in deep trouble…. Not just because Teague Creek is a prisoner desperate for freedom, but because his every touch makes her desperate for more.

A man with a life sentence has nothing to lose…

Teague Creek has one shot at freedom, but his plan to escape with a hostage develops a fatal flaw: Alyssa. On the run from both the law and deadly undercover operatives who know of his strange abilities, he needs to avoid trouble, but every heated kiss tells him the fire between them could be just as devastating as the flames that changed him forever.

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Chapter One

The clank-clank-clank of shackles echoed off the hospital’s linoleum floors, rippling across Doctor Alyssa Foster’s shoulders.

She headed toward the source, her muscles tense despite her fatigue. Normally, she didn’t mind taking on additional duties when the department was short staffed like this. She didn’t even mind carrying the everyday load for her attending physicians. And sure as hell didn’t complain about it like her sorry-assed excuse of a rival, Greg Dyne, but this… This was the worst of the mundane chores. She’d rather perform the toughest procedure on the nastiest patient than be forced to interact with prisoners.

Before facing the hardened, violent psychopaths waiting at the end of the hall, Alyssa ducked into the restroom and took a minute to splash water on her face. Then she made the mistake of looking in the mirror.

Pale skin, bruise-colored shadows beneath her eyes, frown lines marring her forehead. She almost didn’t recognize the person staring back. Her twelfth day in a row of twenty-fours didn’t look so good in this light, and the unsavory chore awaiting didn’t help.

“Fourteen more days,” she murmured to her reflection. Her year-long fellowship would end in just two weeks. Had it really only been a year? She felt like she’d been at St. Jude’s for a decade already. “And if you want to stay here, you’d better learn to live with the jailbirds.”

The hospital had contracts with five neighboring prisons and the forensic patients had prompted the budget increase, which in turn opened this new attending radiologist’s position, one either she or Dyne would fill.

No. The one she would fill.

Alyssa yanked at the elastic band in her hair and smoothed the messy strands back into a ponytail with a damp hand. After stretching her back and popping her neck, she dragged herself through the closed double doors hiding the forensic wing from the general public.

She’d be the first to admit to a bit of a badboy fetish. Certainly had made her share of mistakes choosing men in the past. But her definition of badboys encompassed independent men who pushed the limits and lived by their own rules, not murderers, rapists and drug pushers.

The angle of sunlight spilling through the glass on the single exterior door at the end of the hall told her it was getting late. She still had patients in the intensive care units in need of procedures, the day’s studies to read out and…oh, yeah, food. She hadn’t stopped to eat anything all day.

Her teeth met and her jaw muscle flexed. She didn’t have time to be doing other people’s work, but if she didn’t, Dyne would. And she damn well wasn’t going to lose this position to that cocky, substandard excuse for a rival.

Alyssa paused at the doorway to the already darkened exam room and nodded to the officer standing in the hallway. The one with a weapon. The one who kept a safe distance from the inmate so the prisoner wouldn’t have an opportunity to steal a gun. One sweep of his twenty-something, clean-shaven, open, eager, sweet Midwestern face, and Alyssa knew this was the perfect place for him—well out of the felon’s reach.

“Ma’am.” Farmboy shifted to allow her past the partially curtained opening. “Sorry we’re so late. The transportation sergeant screwed up.”

She couldn’t quite muster the words, that’s okay, because it was really messing with her day and her mood. But it also wasn’t his fault. She nodded acknowledgement. “What facility are you from?”

“San Quentin, ma’am.”

Alyssa resisted the urge to close her eyes and slump her shoulders. Quentin: death row capital of the California state prison system. Home to the most notorious serial killers and mass murderers of the decade. Definitely an apropos ending to this two-week hellacious shift.

With a slow breath directed deep into her chest, Alyssa prepared her emotional shields then passed the guard and scanned the prisoner’s paperwork: Teague Creek, thirty-four, right upper quadrant pain. Abdomen ultrasound. Piece of cake. It would take her ten minutes, tops.

She surveyed the prisoner from shoulders to toes. He was tall, but little else stood out. His periwinkle blue prison uniform was too similar to hospital scrubs for Alyssa’s taste. Probably because they made her wonder if she was a prisoner of sorts as well. Especially on days like this.

The second officer—this one inside the room and without the weapon—was older, maybe fifty, also Caucasian.

She nodded a greeting. “Officer. I’ll need his shirt off and his hands uncuffed from the waist chain.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Alyssa pulled the curtain halfway closed and set the papers on a fold-out desk. Her gaze paused on the box labeled release date where the word life had been scribbled. Her lips pursed with a slight involuntary shake of her head. So young. What a waste.

She slipped on a glove, picked up a bottle of warm gel and turned to find the prisoner leaning on the edge of the gurney. Something dark caught her eye and her gaze passed over his face without seeing it, honing in on the coal black tattoos covering a wide muscled chest.

A swastika the size of a basketball stamped the left side of his torso. The right side of his abdomen flaunted an eagle holding a shield engraved with the letters A B and two swords crossed in the background. Barbed wire spiraled his biceps. All classic insignia of the Aryan Brotherhood.

Apprehension clutched her belly in a tight, hot fist. Her eyes darted to his face, looking for something—disgust, venom, condescension—some reaction to her ethnicity. Anyone with two eyes could tell she wasn’t a hundred percent lily white. But he’d tilted his chin down, his gaze now cast to the floor, and Alyssa found herself looking at the top of his head, shaved nearly to the skin. And—surprise, surprise—another swastika centered on the dome of his cranium.

In a last ditch effort to quell her growing anxiety, she cast a quick look at his hands. They’d been released from the waist chain and another set of regular cuffs secured around his wrists, standard procedure for high-risk prisoners. Suspicion confirmed. This guy had trouble written all over him. Capital T. And Alyssa already had all the trouble she could handle. She already felt brittle enough to shatter. This would be the fastest scan she’d ever performed. The typical ten minute exam just dropped to three.

She gestured to the gurney, keeping her focus on the crisp white sheet. She didn’t want to meet his eyes, didn’t want to see whatever was there—or not there. “Lay on your back, please.”

He obeyed without even attempting a side-glance her way. Seemed he wanted to avoid eye contact as much as she did. Something was finally going right with her day.

Alyssa tapped information into the machine with tense fingers and grabbed a chair. “Can you lift your arms over your head, please?”

As he moved, so did the bulk beneath his tan skin and black tattoos. Alyssa could have used him as an anatomy model to delineate each muscle. Inmates were often physically fit, after all they had all the time in the world to work out, but this man was extreme. As a physician, the sheer beauty of his body intrigued her to distraction. As a woman half his size, it scared the hell out of her.

The officer in the room edged toward the partially open curtain, meeting up with the other guard. “Did you buy that golf pass yet?”

“No,” Farmboy replied. “I have to wait until my next paycheck.”

“You’re gonna miss the deadline, man. Can’t beat those prices. Thirty bucks for eighteen holes on a course like that? Includes a cart, too.”

Alyssa angled the transducer between Creek’s ribs to get a good shot of his liver, half listening to the idle conversation. She darted a glance at his face. His gaze was locked on the ceiling, his jaw ticking. The darkened room shadowed his features, but his looks still caused a double-take. Just as striking as his body, his face was all handsome angles and perfect proportions. Too bad the good looks had gone to waste on a racist, criminal pig.

“Do you have AIDS?” she asked as she clicked pictures of his right kidney.

His eyes flicked toward her, held. Light eyes. Sharp eyes. “No, ma’am.”

The low, smooth timber of his voice gave her belly an uncomfortable twist.

“Hepatitis? A, B, C?”

“No, ma’am.”

Her arm brushed his ribs and heat stung her skin. Alyssa startled, attention refocused. She tipped the transducer so she could lay the back of her hand against his belly. “You’re burning up. How long have you had this fever?”

He shifted away from her touch and turned his eyes to the ceiling. “No fever, ma’am. I’m fine.”

“I can feel it through my glove.”

“Normal for me.”

Alyssa squinted at him in disbelief. That level of heat wasn’t normal for anyone. He had to be near a hundred and five degrees. As she continued to scan, she searched for a source of infection to explain the fever, but ultimately found none.

In an effort to get him talking in hopes of gaining more information, she said, “I haven’t found anything that would cause the abdomen pain you’re having.”

Creek said nothing. His jaw resumed ticking.

With a mental shrug, Alyssa used a washcloth to clean the gel off his skin, his body heat burning through the cloth. Weird kept repeating in her head. But if he wanted to let his blood boil, so be it.

“Turn onto your right side, toward me,” she said. “You’re almost done.”

When he rolled, he was only six inches away. His intense body heat closed around her like an embrace, creating an unexpected intimacy that left her squirming in her chair.

Alyssa’s eyes lifted to his face again, expecting to find him staring at her, but again, he was looking down and away, his gaze fixed on the officers’ boots, all that was visible of the men now situated just outside the curtain.

With one last image of yet another perfect kidney, Alyssa dropped the transducer into its holder and laid a towel on the table beside him. This man’s cut physique would linger in her mind for a long time.

Which meant this place must have finally pushed her over the edge, because fantasizing about prisoners was not what lingered on a normal woman’s mind.

“Done. You can clean up.” She turned away and pushed to her feet. “You need to mention that fever to your —“

The hair on her neck barely had time to lift before heat washed her back. Creek’s hard body closed around her. A cool chain cut across her throat. No. She sucked air. No. Her fingers clawed at the metal. No!

“Don’t make a sound.” He spoke soft and slow, his chin on her shoulder as he bent over her and pressed his cheek against hers from behind.

Her brain finally came back online. Air wisped into her lungs and fed the new baseline of fear. When Creek straightened, he rose ten inches above her. And she now registered not only his size, but the sheer strength in all that corded muscle she’d been admiring. His movements controlled, purposeful, almost zen-like in confidence.

“You idiot…” She barely breathed the words, the metal and pressure restricting her vocal chords. “Let go—“

The chain jerked once, cutting into her trachea. “Shut. Up.”

Pain cut off all thoughts but sheer survival. Air. Breath. Air.

She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway. Oxygen wisped through the stricture. In. Out. In. Out. Her gray matter slugged back to work, edged with hot, sharp panic that threatened to invade every crevice and drive her insane.

The officers’ boots were still visible beneath the curtain where they stood in the hall, but she couldn’t draw enough air to speak let alone scream. And the links of metal weren’t cool anymore. They burned, as if Creek’s body heat streamed through the metal.

The older guard chuckled. “You have to stay away from those sand traps, man.”

“Water holes are my problem,” Farmboy replied. “I could pay for the damn pass with the cost of the balls I lose in those lagoons.”

Creek leaned sideways, reaching for something on the desk. With his chest pressed against the width of her shoulders, his hips fitted to the low curve of her spine, he dragged her along. Alyssa strained her peripheral vision toward his reach. Toward the coffee cup holding pens and pencils and… He plucked up a pair of scissors.

Jesus. “Put…those down.” A spurt of terror gushed up her chest. Her fingers searched for a millimeter of leverage between the chain and her skin. “You’re…burning…me.”

Creek’s head tilted down, his whisker-roughened chin scraping her cheek. “Fuck.”

The pressure eased and Alyssa ran her cool fingers over raw skin, choking in blessed air. Her relief was short-lived as the rasp of metal on metal sounded in her ear. A hard blade pressed against her neck. Her eyes squeezed shut.

“Not another sound,” Creek whispered, “or I’ll cut your throat.”

“All right.” The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial as he swooshed the curtain aside. “Are we all done in—?”

The room went completely still. The extended, shocked moment expanded, taking on weight and mass and volume like one of the cancers Alyssa fought so hard to find and fight in her patients.

“Creek, what the fuck are you doing?” The older guard’s voice snapped the aggressive silence. Fear wobbled on the edge of disbelief. “You’re not thinkin’, man. This stunt will get you thrown in the hole for a month.”

“Not if I don’t go back.” His forearms locked over her shoulders, keeping her tight against him. “Give me the gun.”

Oh, no. God, no. Alyssa’s eyes popped open. In front of her, the older man had both hands held out in a now-just-wait-a-second gesture. He’d also lost two shades of color in his face.

This really couldn’t be happening. She could almost convince herself of that if Creek’s body heat weren’t wearing on her as if she’d been hiking in the sun.

“Listen, Creek,” the guard said, “I heard about your appeal, but you’re not out of options, man. You know how this works. Just have to keep bucking the system. You’ll get another chance. This kind of shit will only get you—“

“Out of that living hell,” Creek finished. “Now, give me the damn gun before I cut her open.”

Something pinched Alyssa’s neck. She gasped. Or at least she tried. Only a thread of air got through. Warm liquid trickled down her neck. “Do…something.”

“You heard her, boys.” His voice dipped to a dangerously desperate tone. “Do what I say or she’ll be dead before she hits the floor. And you know where I’ll be? No worse off than I was when I woke up this morning. Give me the gun, right fucking now.”

To Alyssa’s utter disbelief, the older guard pursed his lips, dug his hands into his hips and nodded at the younger officer. “Do it.”

“What?” Alyssa squeaked. If that gun reached Creek’s hand, every chance she had evaporated. “No!”

The younger guard stepped forward, the weapon held out, butt first. After one more glance at the older officer, he slapped the gun into Creek’s palm. Her vision blackened at the edges.

“Give me your gear,” Creek ordered. “Both of you. Now.”

They obeyed, setting their radios, sticks and whistles on the fold-out desk. Creek pointed the gun at the base of Alyssa’s skull. The scissors rasped closed and disappeared. She took one luscious, deep, shaky breath. Air never tasted so good.

“Keys,” Creek said. “Uncuff me.”

The older guard unhooked his keys from a belt loop and dropped them on the desk, his expression angry but resolute. “Make your new girlfriend do it for you.”

“You bastard.” If Alyssa could have reached that guard, she’d have decked him. “How dare you—“

“Dump your keys, kid,” Teague said to the younger man.

Once Farmboy’s keys joined the others, Creek lifted his chin toward the half bath tucked into the corner of the room for patient use. “Both of you, in.”

He pushed Alyssa forward as the men crowded into the tiny space. Within sixty seconds she’d be alone with Creek. No one came down this hallway but prisoners and guards, and look how well that worked out.

Creek shifted his grip. The chain loosened, offering instant relief. But her skin simmered as if she’d been fried in oil. “Oh, my God. What’s on that chain? You burned me.”

His arm came up and across her throat. “One twist, and I’ll break your neck. Then you’ll forget all about the burn. You’re no safer now than you were a second ago, so don’t get cocky.”

Fear and betrayal mingled with confusion and exhaustion, resulting in white-hot anger. “I’m not cocky, I’m pissed off. If you want to screw up your own life, go right ahead, but I can screw up my own just fine.”

His chin scraped her temple when he looked down at her. He remained silent an extended moment as if he didn’t know how to respond.

“You won’t make it past the others,” Farmboy said.

“Others?” Creek’s voice lightened with sarcasm and victory, yet still sounded starkly mature and powerful and authoritative in comparison to the guard’s. “I happen to know there’s only one other. And I’d tell you to watch me, but the first one who sticks his head out that door will get a bullet to the brain.”

“Close the door,” he ordered in Alyssa’s ear, “and put that chair under the knob.”

She did as she was told, trying to do the lousiest job possible. Not hard considering she had a two hundred pound—burning—proverbial monkey on her back.

“Do it right,” Creek said. “Or you’ll be responsible for getting their heads blown off.”

Just what she needed—a guilt trip. She wedged the chair’s metal bar beneath the knob. With the cabinets securing the chair’s feet, those guards wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“Good girl. Stay that way and you’ll be fine.” Creek walked her backwards, pausing at the desk. “Pick them up.”

Gladly. Alyssa wedged the individual keys between her fingers like claws.

“And put them in your pocket,” he said.

Dammit. “I don’t have pockets.”

Creek tightened his arm on her throat. “You have pockets.”

She couldn’t swallow. Could barely breathe. And, damn, her neck hurt. Alyssa shoved the keys into the breast pocket of her scrubs.

“Good girl.” Creek loosened his hold and dragged her toward the door. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. Got me?”

“You’ve already hurt me.” Alyssa took deep, quick breaths, savoring the oxygen. “It would be smarter to let me go and get the hell out of here as fast as you can. I’ll only slow you down.”

He didn’t respond. He was busy searching the length of the hallway, empty now at nearly six o’clock. The side doors, where all prisoners entered and exited the hospital, was just twenty feet away. Twenty feet. Surely, he’d release her when he hit the exit. She couldn’t consider any other conclusion.

And just to push her own desired conclusion forward, she kept talking. What man in his right mind would want a pissy, chattering female along for the ride? “Look, I really don’t have time for this. I’ve got critical patients in ICU who could die if I don’t get PICC lines in them ASAP.”

It was true they could die, just not from lack of a PICC line. But he didn’t know that.

“Not my problem. And stop talking in acronyms. It’s annoying as hell.”

“I’d be a lot less annoying if you let me go.”

“I can see you’re going to have to learn to keep your mouth shut. That’s not what I expected from you.”

“From me? What does that mean?”

He didn’t answer as they approached the exit where late fall sunlight filtered through the glass. Screw whatever he may have meant. Freedom inched closer with every step. That’s what she had to focus on: reaching that door.

But Creek stopped too soon.

At a doorway leading into a holding area, he tapped the fake paneling with the muzzle of the guard’s gun in some cryptic Morse code-type pattern. The door burst open with such force, Creek jerked Alyssa back and twisted, putting his body between her and whoever or whatever was in that room. In that moment, his massive body engulfed hers giving her a flickering sense of complete protection.

“Hey, man.” A rough voice, filled with almost boyish glee, sounded on the other side of Creek. “You gotta see this.”

He straightened and turned them both back around. Another prisoner stood at the door, no cuffs, no leg irons. He had a gun stuffed in the waistband of his navy prison sweatpants, and the grin on his unshaven face matched the mischief in his tone. But his eyes… There was definitely something wrong in the brain behind those eyes. Alyssa had worked with too many mentally deficient patients to miss it.

She caught a whimper in her throat before it escaped. Reflexively, she pressed back against Creek as Psycho Prisoner eyed her up and down, too thoroughly, too slowly.

His lips lifted in more of a sneer than a smile. “Would have preferred a purebred, but she’ll do.” He squinted at her throat. “What’d you do to her neck? That’s wicked cool, man.”

Creek took a step and nudged her forward. Alyssa pushed back. He shoved again, harder. A frantic edge cut at her belly. Bile lunged up her chest, burning the back of her throat.

“Look at him.” Psycho tossed a hand toward the back of the holding area, filled with empty gurneys and chairs. Another officer sat in the corner, his hands, feet and mouth bound with compression tape. “Stupid sonofabitch. He was so easy it wasn’t even fun.” He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his sweats. “Got some toys, too.”

“Great.” Creek’s gaze darted toward the hall, the door, then back. “Let’s get out of here.”

Yes! Alyssa almost yelled the word. Relief and hope broke through the fear. She was almost free. This time, when Creek pushed her, she moved. Five more steps…four…three…

They stopped just inside the doorway. This was it. As soon as these jerks were gone, she’d hit the bathroom, clean herself up, grab some burn gel from the E.R. and call one of the radiologists from their partner clinic across the street to cover for the night. Then, she’d head to the nearest bar and drink this whole nightmare away.

“Get these off of me.” Creek’s voice interrupted Alyssa’s fantasy. He extended his hands in front of her face. “Keys are in her pocket.”

Psycho scanned Alyssa’s shirt, a lewd grin on his face. “My pleasure.”

He pushed his hand into her pocket and grabbed her breast. Disgust twisted Alyssa’s throat closed. She knocked his arm up and away with her own. The knit of keys flew out of his hand and across the room.

The pupil’s of Psycho’s eyes expanded, turning his muddy hazel irises nearly black with rage. Alyssa identified. She’d been attacked by someone she’d been trying to help. She’d been abandoned by someone who should have helped her. Now, she’d been molested by scum living off her tax dollars. Rage? Yeah. She identified.

“Don’t touch me, you—“

Creek turned, pulling Alyssa with him and cutting her off. “Stop fucking around Taz.”

Psycho whipped another key from his own front chest pocket, but his cold, cutting eyes stayed on Alyssa. He slipped the key into the cuffs, and with a click, Creek was free.

An instant later, Creek had his big hand around her wrist. The cuffs were so warm she didn’t feel them close. By the time her reflexes kicked in, she was trapped. She stared at the contrast of her fine fingers and slender wrists against the thick metal cuffs. Hands her mother forever insisted were made for dishes and diapers. Hands Alyssa eternally argued were destined for helping and healing.

Surreal. Absurd. Fallacious.

This isn’t happening.

Creek put one hand in the middle of her back, pushed her into the hall and turned her toward the exit door.

This is happening.

Her stomach lifted then dropped then went queasy, like it did when she rode a roller coaster.

Alyssa planted her feet and leaned back. “I’m not going out there.”

He fisted the back of her scrub top and used the bulk of his body to force her through the doorway.

Alyssa twisted, grabbed the metal frame with both hands. “I’m not going.”

“Oh, yes, you are.”

“No!” Alyssa held on with every last muscle fiber in her fingers. “You got what you wanted. Leave me here.”

Psycho elbowed his way out the door. “There’s the car. I told you it’d be here. Let’s go.”

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Creek’s tense voice ground in her ear. “Let go of the door before I break your arm.”

“No.” Her feet skidded forward as he pushed harder. Her wrists ached from the bite of the cuffs. Her fingers burned from grasping the metal. “No! I’m not go—”

Psycho’s hand blurred in front of her face a split second before her head snapped sideways. Fire erupted in her cheek, spread through her face. Blood seeped onto her tongue. The stark metallic bitterness added another realistic edge to the nightmare.

Taz gripped her chin and cheeks in one meaty hand and jerked her face toward his. “Shut the fuck up, you goddamned gook.” He smacked a piece of tape over her mouth. “You fuck this up for us and I’ll gut you.”

Creek yanked her out of Psycho’s reach. “Chill, Taz. The only person who’s going to fuck this up for us is you. Get the car.”

Alyssa let her eyes close. Pain buzzed across her face. Shock numbed her brain. At some point, she’d started to shake, and couldn’t control it. She’d never been hit before. Not by any man she’d ever dated, even in the most heated argument. Not by any one of her four older brothers, even during a tussle. Not even so much as a spanking as a child, even though she’d given her parents plenty of cause. She’d spent the entire twenty-eight years of her life abuse-free. Until now.

She’d also never been taunted with racial slurs, probably because she looked more Caucasian than Asian. The combination of violence and racism shook her solid foundation.

“Don’t fuck with him.” Creek’s hold loosened. “The quieter you are, the less trouble you cause, the better this will go.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him. His gaze darted to her cheek, then away, scanning the parking lot, as if her suffering meant absolutely nothing to him.

Primal anger sank deep in her gut and overlaid the fear. She’d be quiet all right. And in the silence, she’d watch. And wait. And plan.

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