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Captive, Mine

By:Natasha Knight




Prologue



I always knew I was different. Knew I lived a different sort of life. I just didn’t expect to end up here — like this.

For weeks I’d felt it. I’d known someone had been watching me. But I’d ignored it.

Looking back, I could think of a hundred ways I could have avoided this, avoided him. He’d said one thing and, like a fool, I had believed him. Useless words. Stolen words.

Tucking my knees into my chest, I pulled the worn blanket up over my body. He’d stripped me bare before bringing me here, before binding my wrists together so tightly they felt raw. I shivered in the cold, damp room knowing he was going to teach me a lesson. I’d been to this room before. I knew what had to happen here.

Tears again, stupid tears. He had no right to keep me captive. His captive.

“Let me out!” I screamed for the hundredth time, my voice hoarse, my throat too dry.

This time, though, there was an answer: the sound of his footsteps approaching, the almost imperceptible sound of the key sliding into the lock, turning it.

I pressed my back harder into the wall, fisting the blanket with sweaty hands.

I was going to be punished and it was going to be bad. I knew it. He’d promised it and he always kept his promises.





Chapter 1



It had happened, the cops had finally caught up with him.

Emanuel J. Cross, drug dealer to the wealthy, privileged addicts of high society, my father, had been arrested. And that wasn’t the worst of it.

“Christ!” I said, watching the spectacle on TV. Daddy in handcuffs, walking between two men, the entire block cordoned off, reporters pouring over the yellow police tape to get a close-up of him in this, his grandest hour.

But they didn’t know the half of it.

“Ma’am, we need to go.”

I turned to the door. “Get out,” I snapped. I wasn’t even going to try to be sweet. My father had arranged things neatly for himself, and, apparently, for me. The arrest would be very public, we knew that. Couldn’t exactly take one half of the two-man force that kept the entirety of the East Coast supplied with their drug of choice without some noise. But I found out yesterday that Daddy had made a deal with the feds months ago when they’d first caught up with him. Testify against Randall, his business partner and the one they wanted badly enough to make a deal with the likes of my father, enter into the Witness Protection Program, and live out his days in quiet suburbia in the middle of nowhere. Become a nobody. It was a different sort of prison really. Although I suppose federal prison would be worse. But what I was most pissed about was that I, too, had been given fifteen minutes to pack my essentials and leave my New York City apartment — my beloved apartment — with exactly one suitcase, and disappear right along with my father!

Yes, of course I understood what could happen to me if I was to refuse protection. Randall would do anything he could to keep my father quiet, and what surer way than through his one weakness: me.

“Ma’am.” The man ducked his head into my room again and it took all I had not to kick the door shut right on his stubby, red nose.

“How do you expect me to pack up my life in fifteen minutes? Get out!” I turned my back on him.

“That’s no way to speak to the officer, Ms. Cross.”

I stilled instantly, a chill running along my spine.

“I got this. We’ll be ready to go in one minute,” the same man said.

I faced him as he closed my bedroom door.

I have to admit, it took me a minute to recover myself. This guy was tall. I’m not short, just average at 5’5”, so he must have been 6’5” at least, with dark hair and darker eyes, eyes that made me pause. Under any other circumstances, I would have reacted differently, but not today. Not when my life was falling apart around me.

I cleared my throat. “Who the hell are you?”

He smiled and made no secret of looking me over from head to toe. I narrowed my eyes and did the same. At this point, most men would have tripped over themselves with some stupid comment, but he didn’t. Instead, when I met his gaze again, he looked at me straight on, one side of his mouth curling upwards into a tiny smirk.

“I’m Lake Freeman. Your father hired me to look after you. I’ll be your personal bodyguard until we get you settled and safe.”

“I don’t need a personal bodyguard,” I said, my tone ice. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got a room full of assholes out there who think they’re my personal bodyguards.”

“I’d appreciate if you could watch your language, Ms. Cross. It’s no way for a young lady to speak.”

My mouth fell open. I had no comeback. Really, he was offended by my language?

Lake glanced at the half-packed suitcase on the bed and walked over to it, his boots heavy on the hardwood floor. He pushed the lid down and zipped it up.

“Hey, I wasn’t done packing.” I took a step toward it, realizing I still held a blouse in my hand.

“Yes, you were,” he said, his tone final.

I reached to unzip it but he grabbed hold of my wrist. And he wasn’t gentle. “Get your hands off me! What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m saving your ass, princess,” he said, his expression deadly serious. He picked up the suitcase while keeping hold of my wrist. “Let’s go.”

“Just a minute,” I protested, pulling back.

He paused and turned toward me, making a show of checking his watch.

“How do I know you work for my father anyway?”

“Good girl,” he said, releasing my wrist and smiling. “He said you might ask. It’s Velveteen Rabbit, your safe code.”

I stared at him. How long had it been since I’d heard my dad read me that story?

My mom had run out on us when I wasn’t even a year old. I had no memory of her. My dad and I had been close all my life, so with all this crap that was happening, as tough as I tried to act, I was scared. I was scared for him and for me. And I guess he and I both knew all along that something like this could happen.

Ever since I was little, my dad and I had a secret code and that was it: The Velveteen Rabbit. It was my favorite book. He’d read it to me every night for a year and I still had my well-worn copy of it. I knew if ever someone said they’d been sent by my dad, they’d know those words. It hadn’t come up before, and I didn’t expect it to at twenty-four years old either. But there it was. My dad was still taking care of me from wherever he happened to be at the moment.

“We have to go,” Lake said, this time he sounded almost nice.

I nodded once and looked away. I didn’t want him to see the tears in my eyes and I didn’t want him to know I was scared.

* * *



The pictures didn’t do her justice. Not one bit.

He’d memorized them, of course, until he knew every line of her delicate face, the large brown eyes, the long, wavy black hair, the rich olive tone of her skin. He remembered lingering over the shot taken of her outside on the front stoop of her brownstone, the steam wafting up from her coffee in the chill morning air. The low angle of the morning light seemed to render the white gown she wore diaphanous, revealing far more of her figure than he knew she’d have liked.

He’d taken special care to memorize that photo.

Now, as the truck bounced over the pothole-ridden streets of the city, he watched her again. It made her uneasy, his gaze upon her. He found he liked that. Her eyes, like doe’s eyes, darted to him frequently, as if by keeping him in her sight she was reassuring herself all was well.

It certainly wasn’t, but she didn’t need to know that. Not yet, anyway.

“You forgot something,” he said, nodding toward her.

“Probably forgot all kinds of things.” She glared at him, her eyes squinting against the sunshine pouring through the windshield. “Which wouldn’t have been an issue had you let me, I don’t know, pack.”

Ah, yes, beautiful she may be — but that mouth.

“Try again, Ms. Cross.”

She looked out the window, jabbing a thumb at the unmarked in the next lane. “We certainly didn’t forget them. Like a goddamned motorcade. Very subtle.”

“Seat belt.”

“What?” Her hand reached up automatically for it, then she stopped herself. “You’re serious with this?”

“Put it on.”

Those big brown eyes stared back, her jaw tight. One of the tires dropped into a pothole large enough to swallow a man, her breasts moving with the jarring bounce of the truck. She winced, cursing under her breath, her gaze sliding away.

It was shaping up to be a long trip.

“Seatbelt, Ms. Cross.”

“Are you my bodyguard, or my dad?”

He scanned ahead for an open stretch of curb, finding a loading zone for a busy restaurant supply business. It would do.

“What are you doing?”

Lake pulled the truck to the curb, the cruisers slowing to a crawl as horns blared from the cars behind them. One of the cruisers flashed his blues, waving the cars around him even as his puzzled white face peered over at their truck.

“Let’s get this out of the way now.” He leaned over her, and she shrank into the seat, her lips a surprised O. “I’m here to keep you safe, to get you to your new home.” His hand caught the belt, whipping it out and around, seating the latch with a loud click. She inhaled sharply as he pulled up, cinching it tight, the shoulder belt snug between her breasts. “And I can’t very well keep you safe if you die in a car wreck, can I?”

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