Page 75 of Coercion

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Obviously, Mountain Man had other plans.

The boxing ring in the warehouse is the exact opposite of the beautiful beach by my house.People hold plenty of underground boxing matches here, and they’re clearly more concerned with the fighting than the cleaning.It smells like stale beer and sweat.The floor under the mat creaks every time I shift my weight on the folding chair I’m tied to in the center of the ring.

He stalks from corner to corner in front of me, looking alternately pissed and satisfied with himself.

I’m…annoyed.More than anything, I’m annoyed.I was terrified when he shoved me into the back of a rusty Ford pickup.Now we’ve been here in this warehouse for what feels like at least an hour, and for what?So he can stomp around making his muscles bulge?It’s not even an interesting show.He’s less like a supervillain than a middle manager who called a meeting that nobody came to.

What a joke.I’m at my wits’ end when it comes to men like this.I know I should be sweet and quiet and subservient, but I can’t.He’s keeping me away from Mia and Ben and Will, and I’ve had enough.

“Is this where you come to work off all your frustration?”

Mountain Man whips his head around as if he’s forgotten that I’m here.He has reddish hair that looks faded, like it was combined with a nondescript beige, and brown eyes that remind me of cardboard.“This isn’t about frustration.”

“I mean.”I flex my fingers behind the chair.“Isn’t it?That’s what a boxing ring is for.Fighting with fists.I can’t imagine you’d do that without a certain amount of frustration.”

He tied my wrists with a decent knot, but the rope isn’t very tight.If I can keep him talking, I can untie the knot and run.Hopefully I can do it before Will gets here.The agents with Heather weren’t close enough to save me before this guy peeled out in his deathtrap of a truck, but they saw me.He’ll figure out I’m here.

Mountain Man glares at me.“I’m not frustrated.I like to hit people.You should consider yourself lucky I haven’t hit you.”

“Wow.I appreciate it, but honestly, I have some concerns if the only thing you like to do is hit people who are, like, a quarter your size.”

“That’s not who I fight in the ring.”

He turns his back on me, and I focus harder on the knot.Ihatethat I’m being used as bait in a trap.My blood feels like it’s been replaced with pure, liquid fury that I couldn’t pick up the twins from school.And that Evan got hit by a car trying to save me.I don’t even know if he made it.

“So.”Mountain Man keeps watching the doors on the other side of the warehouse, but he turns his head an inch to angle his ear toward me.I don’t think he can hear very well out of it.That’s not surprising, I guess, considering his favorite hobby is hitting people and attending what I’m sure are loud, rowdy boxing nights.“Why do you hate Will?”

His lip curls.“I don’t hate that smug motherfucker.This is about money.”

“Oh, really?You must’ve had an investment deal that didn’t work out with him.What business are you in?”

“I don’t know about any investment deals.Shut the hell up.”

“I’m just trying to understand what would make this worth it for you.”

He starts pacing again, stomping louder than before.“Like I said.Money.”

“And likeIsaid, why are you holding a grudge against Will about money if you’ve never worked with him?”

“Guys like that have more money than they know what to do with.Girls like you make those assholes pay up.Simple enough for you to understand?”

“So you’re mad that he’s rich.”

“I don’t give a fuck about that.”

“Kidnapping his girlfriend makes it seem like youdogive a fuck.”A little fear tiptoes into the huge pool of my irritation.Will doesn’t do anything without a solid plan and a detailed contract review, followed by as many rounds of negotiation as it takes to get it perfect.

But forme, he’s made more than a few snap decisions.He invited me and the twins to stay the weekend with him when the apartment in Building C got flooded.He took us back to his place when I got sick.He’s already confronted this man once.What if he rushes in here without a real plan and gets hurt?What if he insists on doing this by himself?He might do that for me, and it would be a bad idea.He has to get security.He has to getsomeone.Mountain Man can’t injure him again.

“I want the money.Get that through your head.”

“Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but if money’s what you want, there are plenty of people hiring in the city.”

“I want your boyfriend’s money.”

“Then itispersonal.”

“This is not about the goddamn boxing match.”Mountain Man’s outburst echoes off the ceiling of the warehouse.“I don’t care that he beat me.”