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He wants his revenge:
To lure Anne to a remote lodge,
And punish her for her role in his betrayal.
Surviving a broken heart, courtesy of Steve Jamison – the love of her life who left her without warning or an explanation – has been Anne's daily struggle for the last fifteen months.
Only the thought of revenge has sustained Steve, who was double crossed and nearly beaten to death. The betrayal left him scarred, emotionally as well as physically. He intends to take Anne in all the ways he fantasized about – to mercilessly use her body to reclaim his virility.
As physical boundaries are crossed, defenses come down and truths emerge – but the truth may be even more devastating than the lies they'd each believed.
Publisher's note: This steamy dark romance contains elements of power exchange.
The driver glanced at the lone passenger in the backseat through his rearview mirror. She was pretty, exceptionally pretty, with a sense of shyness or maybe vulnerability about her that appealed to him. "Nice to get out of the city," he ventured.
Anne Holmes' gaze, which had been focused on the scenery, connected with his in the mirror and she smiled flickeringly and nodded in an attempt to be friendly. "Yes."
"A little vacation?"
"No," she replied reluctantly. She wondered how to frame an answer. "Actually, my brother sent a message asking me to come." She ran her hand over the smooth leather seat as she glanced over the interior of the limo, wondering how much the ride had cost. It was so unlike Marshall, who never thought of anyone but himself. She couldn't remember the last gift he'd bestowed on her or anyone. When was the last time he'd even acknowledged her birthday? "I'm not sure why," she added, although the afterthought was more to herself than to the driver.
One thing was for sure; something was definitely going on with her brother. He'd recently done a disappearing act, although she wouldn't have known it if her sister hadn't repeatedly called and demanded to know where he was. Anne shook her head at the notion that she would know. The only thing more bizarre than being expected to know where her brother was, was her sister calling to ask.
None of the Holmes siblings were or ever had been close. In fact, if there had ever been a desire to be close, Anne didn't remember it. She had long ago learned to distrust and avoid Lisa, her elder and only sister, and with good reason. Lisa despised her. Maybe the hatred stemmed from having too much responsibility thrust upon her at too young an age. Maybe it was because Lisa believed she'd been more traumatized by their parents' death than her younger sister, and it was true that Anne didn't remember them well. Her memories of them were few and fleeting, more impressions and isolated moments than anything. The third possibility for Lisa's demeanor was that, maybe, she was just a bad seed, calculating and cruel at heart, and maybe she would have been that way even if their parents hadn't been killed in such an unexpected and traumatic way. There was no way to know, and Anne had long ago given up trying to figure it out. Now, she did her level best to avoid both her siblings whenever possible. Fortunately, it was possible, most of the time.
"Feel sorry for them," her best friend, Rebecca, always counselled. "They are so totally morally bankrupt. And everything that goes around comes around. If not in this life, then in the next."
"Shit lot of good that does me," Anne always countered, since she didn't buy into the philosophy. "But thank you for the oh-so-wise guidance, sister superior."
Sister superior wasn't a bad description at all for her best friend. The two of them had met and become best friends their sophomore year in high school, and Anne continually thanked God for it. Rebecca's parents were also saints who had welcomed her as a second daughter. Her life would have been much bleaker without them.
Rebecca was a platinum blonde who stood five foot one, three inches shorter than Anne, who had always felt short. And insignificant. Rebecca had helped turn that battered self-image around because she didn't respect self-pity any more than meanness. If there was anyone who could have indulged in self-pity, it was Rebecca. She'd battled and beaten childhood leukemia, and, in the midst of it, a bad reaction to one of the drugs had damaged her eyes. Without powerful glasses, she was just shy of legally blind. But Rebecca chose to see the positive in most every situation and in most everyone. "Your sister and brother might be the exception," she'd said more than once. "Usually, if you look hard enough, you can find the good, but—"
In Anne's opinion, the meek didn't inherit the earth. They didn't get diddly-squat. She had learned and she had chosen to eschew self-pity, but there seemed to be no denying that she was a bona fide, card-carrying member of 'The Meek', as unfair as that was, since she'd never signed up to be one. But, apparently, the events of her life had formed her into what she was. Her parents' death in a plane crash when she was not quite six had left her in the care, if one could call it that, of a negligent aunt, a bully of a sister and a narcissistic brother. Still, she'd always tried to be a good person and to do the right thing. What had it gotten her?
Okay, there had been good things, sure, but then something bad generally followed. She'd gone to college on a financial scholarship, did well and graduated with a Liberal Arts degree. But she'd graduated when the economy was stalled and she couldn't find a job except for waiting tables for more than a year. At twenty-four, she'd fallen head over heels in love with the world's sweetest, sexiest man, only to have him up and leave her for another woman. So, when the hell was all the 'good energy' she put into the world supposed to be repaid?
But maybe it had been. She had a pure, perfect love with Sam, and her friendship with Rebecca was sustaining. It was invaluable. Plus, she had a decent job as an assistant in a law office that she didn't always hate, even if it didn't pay well enough for the hours and the bullshit she put up with. She scraped by and she got to come home to Sam.
"Maybe your brother thinks you deserve a vacation," the driver offered.
She shrugged and smiled politely at the driver, who was trying to be friendly, but, yeah, right, she thought. Marshall, the self-absorbed. He'd probably only summoned her because he was in some kind of trouble and had figured out a way she could help him out of it. He was in commercial real estate and made a lot of money, but he spent it just as fast. She never understood how, but he had delusions of grandeur and he thought the world owed him. She didn't understand her siblings, but she saw them clearly.
She eyed the selections of beverages offered, tempted to have a drink. The driver had said to help herself, that it was part of the package, so why did it feel so bold and outlandish to do that? She bit on her bottom lip as she reached for a bottle of chardonnay with a screw-on top and opened it, feeling totally conspicuous. Why not? She could be bold. She could be outlandish.
She reached for a stemless wine glass, poured, and then glanced up at the driver through the rearview mirror, but he was focused on the road. She set the bottle back and took a sip. It was delicious. She sipped again and watched the passing scenery, determined to relax. How many times had she or would she get an opportunity to ride in a limo with a mini bar? Never before and probably never again.
But you're here now.
So, relax. You deserve to relax, she coached herself.
But, ever since she'd gotten the world's most cryptic message from Marshall through the hardly ever used answering service at work, she'd been scrambling to rearrange her schedule and her life to accommodate him. Why?
"Annie, I need you to come meet me. Alone. Don't tell anyone. Will send car to your apartment at four on Thursday. Plan to stay a couple days. It's a casual lodge so no special dress required. Please, little sister. I can't tell you how important it is."
She'd read and reread it three times. The message had so baffled her that she'd called the service to talk to the operator who took it.
"Yes, ma'am. That's how he said to write it," the operator confirmed. "He had me read it back to him, too, to be sure I got it right."
It was so completely weird. In fact, she could have made a list of things that made no sense. Like, why hadn't he just called her cell? She hadn't changed her number. If he'd just called her cell, he could have reached her and explained what was going on. Instead, he called the office during lunch hour and left the bizarre message. What could possibly be so important that she needed to drop everything and come meet him? She'd had to use a vacation day.
And another thing. Why had he insisted she come alone? Bringing Sam would have made the trip a thousand times easier and more enjoyable. Her brother definitely had some explaining to do, but, of course, he could always come up with explanations. He was the consummate man with the plan. And the plan always benefitted him. Which made her a big idiot for jumping through hoops to come meet him.