tagMind ControlOne Night 02 - Twelve to Two

One Night 02 - Twelve to Two


12:00 AM

My Rolex read midnight as I dashed out of the hotel room, Maria's hand gripped tightly in mine while I practically pulled her along behind me.

The curvaceous 22-year-old still wore the slinky red dress that she'd slid out of and tossed aside less than an hour before, but was luckily the kind of woman who thought ahead. In her purse she'd had a pair of flats to replace her high heels, and now an out-of-place pair of Converse shoes hit the floor one after the other as she hurried in my wake.

As we ran for the elevator, thoughts raced through my mind like they had been for the last 10 minutes. I was neither Bourne nor Bond, but I was glad I'd seen enough action films to give me an idea of what might be coming next. This is nothing like a movie, a tiny voice in my head told me. Very soon, you are going to die. There is nothing you can do about it. And it was all over a fucking misunderstanding.

The hallway was expensively carpeted in a lush red material — I could feel my feet sinking into it ever so slightly with every stride — and the wall to my right was entirely glass. The view looking out over the City from this height was breathtaking, and only available in a few luxury high rise towers like the Palace One — the hotel I was currently hell-bent on escaping. Most nights I would have savored the beautiful skyline, the shining lights and contrasting darkness. But most nights I didn't have a contract out on my life from one of the most dangerous Mob bosses in the city for the crime of kidnapping and sleeping with his daughter. Tonight, the glow of the city lights looked ominous, scaring me like search lights beaming into the sky would frighten an escaping convict.

Overprotective father, huh? I grumbled silently as we dashed up to the elevators and I hit the "Down" button five or six more times than was strictly necessary. I was remembering how Maria had originally explained to me the fact that she'd been accompanied by bodyguards into the club where I'd met her. Homicidal father, more like.

Ding. The elevator doors slid open, just as I realized that if this were a movie the bad guys would be waiting inside with weapons at the ready. Their machine guns would fill me as full of holes as Swiss cheese and I'd fall to the ground in slow motion as Maria screamed and covered her face with her hands.

I flinched sideways, an involuntary gasp escaping as I yanked Maria out of the line of fire.

The elevator was empty.

Maria gulped, then put a hand on my arm. "It's alright, Jason," she murmured. "We're still safe... For now."

"Thanks..." I muttered sarcastically, then scowled at myself as she flinched. "Sorry," I said, sliding an arm around her shoulders.

The gorgeous brunette looked up at me, her lips full and begging to be kissed. My eyes sharpened and I could practically taste her tongue, feel her round breasts beneath my hands and her hardening nipples against my palms. Her hair would tangle in my fingers as I pulled her head back and kissed down her throat, down the valley of cleavage and —

I wrenched my eyes away from her fantastic figure and met her gaze. Her lust for me was still flowing strong through her body, simply masked by the stress and fear of the moment, and with my ability I had unintentionally picked up on it.

Focus, man. I ordered myself sternly. Your gift is the only advantage you have. It was a small one, I knew, but my only chance at surviving the night would be to find Maria's father — the notorious Antonio San Luca — and use my ability to make him call off the hit.

It was going to be a long night.

As the elevator swiftly dropped away beneath our feet, I tried to slow down and catch up to my racing thoughts. Maria was silent beside me, her face tight with worry. Calling her father had done nothing — he either didn't believe that she'd come with me of her own free will or didn't care — so it appeared that familial diplomacy was a dead end. Sticking one hand into my pocket and searching around, I tried to run through my assets.

Money. The slim leather wallet I carried had several hundred dollars in cash as well as several credit and debit cards.

Car. The key fob to my sleek Jaguar F-Type was smooth and rounded under my fingers.

Hostage. I winced mentally as my eyes flickered over to Maria once again. I snarled internally and brushed aside the unworthy thought. I might not be much of a gentleman, but I wasn't going to turn this girl into some sort of bargaining chip.

Alright, I thought. You have a mode of transportation and a couple of benjamins. What're your liabilities?

My mind, trying to spiral out of control, grasped at the question as a way to maintain sanity. Good. I'd long ago realized that, while complex and incredibly useful, the brain is really just a super sophisticated question and answer machine. If I fed it the right questions, I might have a chance at surviving the night. If I let it run down the rails out of control, I might not make it beyond the hotel lobby. So, when I asked my brain to analyze the scenario, reason cut into the silent, animalistic buzz of fear and started to reassert dominance.

Liabilities. Alright... Luckily, I was used to high-tension circumstances. Dating, pick-up and life-coaching all necessitate an ability to stay cool under pressure, and as the number one coach in the City I dealt with more pressure than anyone. Then again, I'd never had a mob boss order men with guns to kill me on sight. I shook my head and snapped back to reality. Focus, dammit.

I don't know who's coming after us. I silently ticked off items as I ran through the list. I don't know how or when or where. And I don't know where Antonio San Luca is... A sudden chill shot through me. What if he isn't even in the City? There was a simple answer for that question. There would be no way for me to get to him and change his mind before one of his hit squads caught up with me. My brain, the sophisticated Q&A box, gave me my answer with ruthless simplicity. Then I'm dead.

"Maria?" I asked, my throat felt dry so I think I might have had just the slightest rasp in my voice.

"Yes?" Maria asked quietly, watching the illuminated number above the elevator door flip down towards L for lobby.

"Is your father in town?"

"He is," she confirmed, and I breathed the tiniest sigh of relief.

Thank God.

"But I still think that if I take you there he's going to kill you..." her voice was flat with dread as she trailed off into silence.

25. 24. 23... I watched the numbers, too, and waited several moments before answering.

"Well," I finally told her. "It's not like I have much choice."

She swallowed and nodded, worry breaking out over her face again. She opened her mouth, and I sensed that she was about to start apologizing.

I held up a finger. "Ah ah," I hushed her swiftly. I smiled courageously. Funny how making sure someone else doesn't panic helps you keep from panicking, I noticed. "None of that."

The gorgeous woman froze with her mouth open, then nodded. Without really trying, I felt her emotions shift, a respect growing for me that I found oddly satisfying. "Where are we going?" she asked instead.

How the hell should I know?! I wanted to demand, but I took a deep breath and said, "Step one is getting out of this building. You said your father knew where to send people to find us. How?"

Maria shook her head, tossing her thick brown hair over her shoulder as she started to respond, then her eyes widened and she grabbed in purse for her cell phone. She held it up.

I understood. "Must've bugged your phone, huh?" I said with a snort, somehow finding the time to make light of the situation. Controlling, homicidal... my mental monologue trailed off as one half of my brain — maybe the half that didn't get most of its ideas from my cock — glared at the other half. And you thought it was a good idea to sleep with this man's daughter? The second hemisphere of my brain shrugged shamelessly. I didn't know that, at the time.

"Focus," I growled, making Maria flinch beside me. Instinctively, I wrapped an arm comfortingly around her waist. She leaned into me, her scent drifting seductively over me. I forced myself not to look into her mind or brush up against her emotions as she did, but it didn't take someone with my ability to sense that she was still incredibly horny from earlier.

God, I thought. If we weren't running for our lives this woman could go on for hours. I felt a steady trickle of blood begin to wend its way down my body to the swelling length between my legs. Damn that's hot... Before I could refocus myself, the elevator reached the ground floor.


I was not ready for what happened next.

12:10 AM

I heard the shots before I saw the results. I've fired guns before and I've learned that they are loud, shameless weapons that make no effort to hide their presence. The group of half a dozen men storming the front of the Palace One luxury hotel were equally shameless. I could make out their bulky figures beyond several large potted plants and lobby furniture and through the large glass doors at the front of the building. Nothing about their entrance was subtle as exquisite sculptures and paintings were torn to shreds and the men ruthlessly sprayed the lobby with gunfire.

Luckily, the elevator was at right angles to the front door, so Maria and I were out of the line of fire. The concierge and welcome desks weren't so lucky. There were spatters of red on the walls behind both, and I felt a sudden surge of nausea as I realized that whoever had been working there had been shot.

I tried to swear but it came out as a strangled "Gak!" and I slammed my palm over and over into the "Close Doors" button until the elevator slid shut with agonizing slowness. As it did, I saw the men — dressed in dark, military-style fatigues — advance into their own kill zone through the shattered glass doors.

"We have to get out of here!" I gasped, my chest heaving as adrenaline suddenly pumped through my body. My voice was unnaturally loud, and I could still hear the loud pop-pop-pop of machine gun fire ringing in my ears.

Maria nodded, her face pale. I think she had seen the bloodstained walls, too.

I reached out to jab another button on the elevator console and the contraption began to descend.

"G3?" Maria asked, checking the glowing circle I'd just pressed.

"Third level of the underground garage," I replied quickly. I fished around in my pocket and pulled out my key fob, gripping it in my hand at the ready. "We're going to run to my car, hop in and get the fuck out of here. Once we do that we can figure out where we're heading next."

Maria nodded, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

Despite the tension and overwhelming dread I was feeling, I couldn't help but notice as the motion drew attention to her busty chest, her round breasts straining against the tight red dress. Unable to stop myself, I let my eyes wander. The smooth, bronze skin at her throat was begging for my mouth and I felt my jaw tighten as I traced her athletic figure with my gaze. I felt a low growl of desire vibrate in my throat, and Maria's dark eyes fluttered open.

She looked at me through her long lashes, and I knew that her body ached for my hands. She shuddered briefly and her features tightened, but she shook her head. "We need to..." she trailed off as she seemed to lose her train of thought, then tightened her slim fingers into fists. "To get out of here."

She's right, logical Jason agreed emphatically. Adrenaline-pumped, horny, hormone-driven Jason tried to ignore him, but then restrained himself.

The 22-year-old gasped softly as I got my emotions back under control and took a steadying breath. I frowned at myself. I must have been unintentionally broadcasting my lust onto her as well. Keep it together, man, I ordered. That's the only way you're going to stay alive.

I turned to face the elevator doors, trying to ignore the sexy young woman next to me. I was surprised, then, when I suddenly felt her hand intertwine with mine. She squeezed once and I turned to look at her.

Maria's face was set and determined but also playful. "We'll get out of this," she told me firmly. "And then..." she winked at me and her voice dropped into a sultry purr. "I'm all yours, Master..."

Ding. We'd arrived.

I was stunned for several full seconds as the doors slid open. Incredible, logical Jason thought as Maria cautiously stepped out of elevator before me. Fifteen minutes into life-or-death cat and mouse and she's gotten herself under control enough to flirt with you. I remembered my original assessment of Maria's physical appearance — goddess tier. As I learned more and more about the woman behind the body I realized I may have to put her in a category all her own. Shaking my head bemusedly, I followed Maria out of the elevator and into the darkened underground garage.

Escape first, I ordered my brain. Sex thoughts later.

The garage was dimly lit, but what light there was seemed almost to sparkle as it bounced off the metallic bodies of cars of all types and descriptions. There was only one common denominator — they were all expensive as hell. I ignored the Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Teslas as I tried to remember where I'd parked. We hustled past several rows before I spotted my silver sports car and veered right, grabbing Maria by the elbow. At the same time I let my senses extend beyond myself in an attempt to pick up on any surface thoughts or emotions nearby. It might not work, but if I could pick up on something I might get some warning before —

A dark figure stepped from the shadows at the back of the parking space, coming off the wall with all the languid grace of a predator. As it did, I suddenly slammed into a mental wall of force. I practically staggered. Whoever this person was, they were laser-focused, single-minded and ruthlessly loyal to their mission. Anything behind that wall of determination was hidden to me.

"Chiara..." Maria gasped.

As I regained some of my equilibrium, I realized that the figure before me was a woman dressed in some sort of black, tight-fitting body armor. A tactical harness was strapped to her torso and, glinting in the light of the overhead bulbs, I could see I could see that she carried a blade in each hand. In her right hand, which was angled away from me, she held a long, black-bladed sword and in the left a shorter knife that bent inward partway down the blade...

A kukri? I swallowed, then coughed nervously as the woman put a combat boot on the hood of my car and leaned over her knee, eyeing me and Maria with a cool, collected focus. I felt a tingle of fear run down my back. Maybe, given more time, I could have made a better first impression, but in the moment the only words I could squeeze through my tightening throat were, "Um... What's with the swords?"

The woman laughed softly. She tossed back her long, dark hair and as she did I noticed her body for the first time. The figure-hugging body armor left very little to the imagination. She was built like an athlete with long, muscular legs and the toned physique of a martial artist or dancer. When she spoke, the woman's voice was throaty and unconsciously seductive in the most dangerous way. Her eyes flashed and I noticed the curve of her full lips as she said, "Antonio ordered that the man who'd laid hands on his little girl should be dealt with... elegantly..." The woman's darkly tanned face could have been replicated from the sculpted statue of a Greek goddess. "Guns are anything but elegant."

I flashed back to the carnage and destruction upstairs. I mean, she has a point, hormone Jason agreed, eyeing the curve of her breasts outlined by the dark suit. Logical Jason just screamed at me to run.

"Chiara," Maria said, stepping forward and raising her hands peacefully. "Listen to me. This is all a misunderstanding..."

The woman cast a look Maria's way that was almost sympathetic, but her beautiful face was stony. My invisible senses picked up a ping of regret from beneath her shield of grit, but her loyalty never wavered.

"Jason is a safe guy," the beautiful 22-year-old continued. "He didn't know who I was when we met and everything that happened after was —" I heard Maria stumble and sensed the visceral surge of arousal that shot through her body as she recalled the previous hour, "um... totally consensual."

Chiara sighed and blinked once, then shot a sentence or two at Maria in Italian. Maria responded quickly, and I could tell from her pinched features that Chiara was having none of it.

She's hot though, hormone Jason thought dreamily, and I realized that I was going to be getting no help from that quarter. So instead I took a deep breath and focused, ignoring the musical Italian voices that shot words back and forth faster than the ball in a professional tennis rally. I'd never tried this before. I was going to have to stop the Mob-hired ninja woman from cutting me up into fresh sushi.

My abilities were usually limited to subtle manipulations or surges of emotion. Earlier in the night, back when there hadn't been gun-toting thugs or sexy, sword-wielding assassins coming to kill me, I'd used my strange skill to change a woman's mind. She had been about to reject my client Mark but I'd convinced her that she wanted to give him a chance instead.

The difference was that that woman had been primed and made ready by the circumstances. She was out for a night on the town and receptive to meeting new men and having a good time. Plus, what I'd done with her was my job. I was experienced at it. I'd been helping guys to get a chance with beautiful women for years. Not once in that time had I been forced to stop someone from killing me.

In my experience, it's one thing to give someone a mental nudge. That's just a matter of deflecting their focus and emotions a little off of their current course and in a more desirable direction. It's a totally different animal to try and change their mind. That's more akin to reversing the direction of an avalanche. The only time in my life that I'd tried to use my strange talent to defend myself was when I was twelve. That hadn't gone so well. The school bully had ended up giving me a couple solid whacks in the stomach and when I tried to get him to stop my brain had exploded with so much pain that I'd blacked out for several seconds and woken up with my face on the asphalt. I'd had skull-splitting headaches for a week. That was when I'd begged my parents and gotten into martial arts. And it was also one of the reasons that, until I'd turned 18, I hadn't used my talent for more than simply reading people's emotions.

Still... I eyed the woman's stance and the way she held her weapons — comfortably and with obvious experience. With this woman, if I move the wrong way then I'm dead. Headaches will be the least of my worries.The female assassin could probably kill me in less than six seconds if I didn't stop her. And it looked like her patience with Maria was growing thin. So, without giving myself another chance to second-guess it, I clenched my jaw and threw myself into the gorgeous assassin's mind.

12:15 AM

My physical senses blacked out as I sank into Chiara Santoro's thoughts. Everything I could see or hear with my physical body was muted, like it was bouncing down to me through a long tunnel.

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