Just One Tease: The Dirty Dares
Hadley Stevens is on the run with her younger sister—again—but this time, she’s in control. Zach Dare might hate her, but she knows he’d never turn away someone in need. He’s the only man she trusts. The man she’s never gotten over. Even if she left him without a word.
Zach never expected the girl he once loved to walk into his bar. The last time he saw her, he’d dropped her off after school and promised to pick her up for prom. Except she disappeared.
Now, she’s back with a new name, but the same doe eyes and pouty lips, and she’s asking for the help he would have gladly given her all those years ago.
Zach agrees to protect them, but he refuses to fall for Hadley again. But late nights working side by side give them a tempting glimpse at the life they could have had…and all the reasons he loved her come flooding back.
He’ll have to keep her safe.
Before he can convince her to stay.
Release date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: CP Publishing
Print pages: 300
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Just One Tease: The Dirty Dares
Hadley Stevens loved her job but late spring always turned high school kids into restless, hormonal savages thanks to being stuck inside a stuffy brick building seven hours a day, five days a week. They were so close to summer freedom, even she could relate to their restless spirits.
The sun shone overhead as she walked to her car. Coworkers also strode to their vehicles and Hadley knew without asking they were all grateful it was the second to last Friday of the school year. It helped that the weather was warm, even for mid- June in Braxton, Illinois, giving everyone an extra pep in their step. Hadley had no plans for the weekend beyond reading and relaxing, and if the weather stayed nice, she would sit outside and chill.
The house she lived in with her father, Gregg, and thirteen-year-old sister, Danika, had a small patio in the backyard where Hadley always found peace. No doubt some of this weekend would include shuffling Dani to and from a friend’s house, too, something Hadley didn’t mind at all.
She approached her car, key fob in hand when a man strode up beside her, his shadow blocking the sun.
“Hadley Stevens.” He said her name in a low voice.
She stiffened and looked up, recognizing him immediately. He was one of the sleazy men who’d been meeting with her father in their home most evenings, hanging out in their family room, and eyeing her, just-developing thirteen-year-old sister, with lust-filled eyes. Their perversion scared Hadley to no end and she always kept her door open, and an eye on Dani until the men left.
“What do you want?” Hadley slid her finger over the alarm on her key fob.
He grasped her wrist tight enough to bruise. “Don’t. Hear me out and nobody has to get hurt.” He slid his jacket aside, revealing a holstered gun.
Shaking now, she straightened her shoulders and refused to show more fear. “I’m listening.”
“Tell your father, if he doesn’t do what we asked, we’ll take you and your pretty little sister as payment instead.” Releasing her wrist, he strode off, mixing in with the male and female teachers in the lot.
Trembling, she could barely unlock her car door and when she finally climbed inside, she jammed her finger against the door-lock button four times before she convinced herself she was safe.
Dani, she thought, her stomach twisting in knots. She had to get home to her sister. The knowledge calmed her down enough to drive but the past she’d been told to forget crashed through her mind for the duration of the fifteen-minute trip.
Hadley had just come home from shopping with a friend for last-minute makeup and hair clips for her boyfriend’s prom night. She’d been high on life and excited to be his date for the senior prom. He didn’t care that she was a junior. She and Zach Dare had been friends for years and a couple for almost eight months. And she planned to give him her virginity on prom night.
Except there’d been no prom. Not for her. And probably not for Zach, either. When Hadley had walked into her house that day eleven years ago, she’d been greeted by her father and federal agents who’d relocated them that night, changing her name, her identity and altering the course of her life forever. She was sure Zach hated her for abandoning him without a word and did her best not to think about the cute boy she thought she’d loved.
Now, as she approached the home where she’d lived since being uprooted from everything and everyone she knew, that same gut-churning feeling returned. She already knew her father had gotten involved with the wrong people again but this time, she doubted they’d have government protection to keep her and Dani safe.
She pulled into the driveway, relieved to find it empty with no other cars on the street. It didn’t mean the men weren’t inside the house, but it gave her some hope. She glanced at the small home and though the white paint chipped in places, she’d done her best to keep the grounds pretty by planting flowers and bulbs that bloomed yearly.
She pulled her car into the garage beside her father’s vehicle and tapped the button to close the electric door behind her. Still shaking, she walked inside and paused to listen. It was quiet. She didn’t hear men’s voices and Dani wasn’t blasting loud music. Knowing her sister, she was probably using earbuds and destroying her hearing instead.
Hadley rushed through the hall and into the kitchen to find her father pacing back and forth across the small area.
“Dad? What did you do?”
“Hadley!” He spun around, his dark hair, newly threaded with gray, an unruly mess. He made it worse when he ran his hand through the too-long strands. His face was drawn and pale, the lines around his eyes and mouth more pronounced. “I’ve been waiting for you to get home from work.”
She narrowed her gaze. “One of the guys who hang out here just cornered me by my car at school. He said if he couldn’t get what he wanted out of you, he’d take me and Dani as payment instead. What did you get involved in this time?”
“Fuck!” He picked up the cookie jar where she kept Dani’s lunch money and threw it against the wall, shattering the ceramic and causing a dent in the plaster.
She flexed her fingers, her palms damp from her hard grip on the steering wheel, and her wrist throbbed from where the man had gripped her hard enough to leave marks or bruises.
After placing her heavy tote bag on the kitchen table, she drew a deep breath, preparing herself for whatever disaster was coming.
Then she turned to face her too-silent father.
He rubbed his hands over his bloodshot eyes. “I’m in trouble, baby girl.” He only called her that when he was feeling guilty about something. “I need you to take your sister and go,” he said, his gruff, demanding words shocking her.
She’d known he was in trouble but sending them away? “What are you saying?”
He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Get your sister from her room, pack a bag, and leave here. Now. Drive far and fast.”
Processing his words was impossible. “But …”
He shook his head, his eyes wild. “There’s no time. Hurry up.”
She nodded, and just like when she was sixteen, Hadley went on autopilot. She rushed upstairs and knocked on her sister’s door. Receiving no answer, she opened it and found Dani with earbuds on while tapping away on her laptop, unaware everything was about to change.
Hadley stepped up to the bed, catching her sister’s attention.
Dani yanked out her earbuds and grinned. “Hey, Hads. What’s up?”
Hadley managed a smile at the nickname that Dani had used since she was a toddler. It had taken Hadley years not to think of herself as Mia Roberts, her given name, the person she’d been prior to entering Witsec thanks to her father. Mia, a name Dani had never heard anyone call her since she’d been a baby when they’d been forced to disappear.
“Can you shut that down?” Hadley pointed to the laptop. “We need to talk.” And she didn’t want any of Dani’s friends who might be listening on Facetime, overhearing.
Hadley had already decided to be honest with her sister. Dani was a smart, wise-for-her-years kid. She already knew neither of her parents was the most upstanding citizen nor did they associate with decent people. It was Hadley who kept Dani’s life as normal as possible.
Dani closed the laptop cover and leaned forward. “What’s wrong?”
“I need you to listen carefully,” Hadley said, as she sat down on the mattress.
“You’re scaring me.” Dani’s green eyes were wide with fear and Hadley hated her father for forcing her to put that emotion there.
She had no way to soften the blow, either. “Dad got himself in serious trouble. You and I can’t stay here. It’s not safe and we need to leave.”
“What?” Dani asked, her voice raised.
“I’ll explain more in the car but right now, pack as much as you can fit in your rolling suitcase and backpack and meet me in the kitchen. I need to go do the same thing.”
Blinking fast, Dani shook her head. “Wait. For how long because I have so many fun things planned for the last week of school and Amy’s having a party next weekend!”
Hadley winced, aware of how her sister felt, knowing she’d miss out on things that seemed so big in her young life. And once Dani realized they were probably going to be gone for a long time, that pain and disappointment would only get worse.
“I’m going to treat you like an adult and be one hundred percent honest. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone but I will find a way to make it up to you. Right now, just pack, please,” she said, hoping just this once, Dani’s teenage stubbornness wouldn’t kick in.
Dani shook her head. “But mom said she was coming over tonight and I need to be here.“
Hadley gritted her teeth, doing her best not to show her aggravation at the mention of Dani’s selfish, drug-addict mother.
Hadley’s mom died in a car accident when she was thirteen. Instead of staying home with his grieving daughter, her father, Ray, immediately began hitting the bars at night. It wasn’t long before he met, hooked up with, then knocked up Patrice Munson. He moved his pregnant girlfriend into the house where Hadley’s mom had lived. Patrice hadn’t been interested in helping and Hadley, in between schoolwork and her part-time job, did everyone’s share of housework and cooking.
Dani was a year old when the feds moved them as a family, to a small town in Illinois. And that sent a bored, miserable Patrice into a drug-induced spiral, leaving Hadley to care for Dani more than she had been prior to the move. Ultimately, Patrice lost custody due to her neglect and she only saw Dani because their father allowed it, as long as he or Hadley was home to supervise.
“Hads?” Dani’s voice shook Hadley out of her stupor and put her squarely back in reality. Was it any wonder she’d escaped into her memories, even if it had meant revisiting a shitty past?
“What? I didn’t catch what you said.” Hadley looked at her sister.
Dani rolled her eyes. “I said, can we please leave after I see mom?”
Hadley sighed. “You saw your mom last night.” And it was unusual for Patrice to show up two days in a row, let alone all that often. Hadley doubted she’d be return, disappointing Dani yet again. But she wasn’t going to fight with her sister by bringing up the truth about her mom.
“We’ll figure out what to do about seeing your mother again but right now, we need to go.” Hadley walked to the closet and pulled out Dani’s suitcase. “Come on, now. Get packing.”
Ignoring the half-yell, half-whine from her sister, Hadley rushed to her room, retrieved her suitcase, and began to throw things in without thinking.
She dumped her entire underwear drawer into the suitcase, along with some casual clothes, hearing the thump of her diary. A habit she’d kept up from her teenage years. Putting her feelings on paper helped clear her mind.
Nothing could give her that clarity now, as she wondered what she could possibly tell the school district about her sudden leave. She needed an excuse that wouldn’t jeopardize her Teacher Loan Forgiveness or get her fired for bailing on them with no warning the last week of the year. At least she had until Monday morning to think of something.
After she packed, Hadley shut her bedroom door. She walked to her closet and knelt, grateful that ever since their middle-of-the-night move, she’d thought ahead. Beneath three shoe boxes, she pulled out a fourth and opened the top. Inside she had a secret stash. A mix of cash and prepaid Visa and Master cards she’d saved over the years. She couldn’t say she’d anticipated this moment but something inside her knew she needed to prepare just in case.
She stuffed everything into the inside lining of her everyday tote, hooked the bag on her shoulder, and dragged the suitcase to the kitchen. She passed Dani’s room on the way and a quick glance confirmed her sister was packing like she was supposed to.
In the kitchen, her father sat at the table, his head in his hands. The shattered jar still lay on the floor and it took everything in her not to act on habit, get the broom, and clean up the mess.
“Dad?” she asked when he didn’t look up.
He rose from his seat and walked over to where she stood. “Take this.” He shoved cash in her hand. “Don’t use your credit cards. They’re traceable.”
As if she hadn’t learned that lesson from the female agent who’d accompanied them here when she was sixteen. Hadley glanced back at the destroyed cookie jar and realized he’d gathered up the spare fives and singles she’d stuffed inside.
From the look and feel of the bundle, he’d added more but as she flipped through the pile, her heart sank at the small denomination of the bills. He didn’t know she had access to untraceable money, yet this wasn’t enough to get by, and her disappointment in him somehow grew.
“This won’t even cover a motel. Not if we want to eat. I need more. Is there anything else in the house?” she asked, pushing him because she eventually, she would need access to more funds.
“I’m here,” a sullen Dani said at the same time her father shook his head.
Hadley turned as her sister shuffled into the room. Her backpack hung over one shoulder and she dragged her suitcase behind her. She’d put on a baseball cap and her long hair hung in braids on either side of her head. The front strand she’d dyed pink covered one eye and she glared at them through the other. Looking at her now, no one would realize how beautiful the teen really was.
Their father moved close and pulled Dani into a long hug. “I’ll see you soon. I promise.” He met Hadley’s gaze over Dani’s head, seeming to beg her to make this easier.
He couldn’t even handle the goodbye like a man.
“Dani, why don’t you meet me in my car? I parked it in the garage. I’ll be right out.”
The teenager held onto her father for a few seconds longer, enough time for Hadley’s anger at their dad to grow. Every time she thought he’d hit his lowest in her estimation, he dug the hole deeper.
Dani released him and looked at Hadley, and she forced a wink at her sister. “It’ll be a fun road trip. I promise.” Too bad she couldn’t cross her fingers behind her back at the lie.
She didn’t know what awaited them any more than she knew where they’d go. “Get settled in the car and pick the music you want to listen to,” she said, already cringing at the certainty of loud sound to add to her pounding head.
Once Dani stomped out, Hadley spun around. “I can’t believe you did this to her. To us. Again. Don’t you ever learn?” She didn’t ask him what kind of trouble he was in. The less she knew, the safer she would be.
He hung his head and sighed but didn’t answer which was a good thing. Nothing he said would make any difference.
“Take Dani somewhere safe,” he muttered. “And don’t tell me where you end up, either.”
Of course. Because if he didn’t know their whereabouts and those dangerous people came after him, he couldn’t reveal their location. Regardless of what they did to him to extract information. She shuddered and nausea threatened.
“I’m sure my calls are being traced,” he continued in a monotone but urgent voice. “There’s a burner number on a piece of paper stuffed in with the money. Once you’re settled, get one for yourself and ring me once so I have your number. That way I can let you know when it’s safe to come home.”
If it was ever safe, she thought, not saying the words aloud.
He had tears in his eyes but she was in a mixed state of shock, anger, and disbelief, too stunned by the sudden upheaval to feel bad for him. He’d caused this mess.
“I’m sorry.” He pulled her into a hug.
One she forced herself to return because a part of her feared this might be the last time she saw her father.
“Go, baby girl.”
She stepped back and nodded. “Bye, dad.”
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