She couldn’t get free. No matter how long or how hard she struggled, Skye couldn’t escape from the handcuffs.
Or from the basement that she knew would be her grave.
The place smelled of blood and death. Fear. Her fear.
Skye’s breath sawed in her lungs. Hunger gnawed at her, twisting her stomach. The darkness was so complete.
She was trapped there. Skye knew that she would die there.
“Weston is dead.” The brutal words came to her in the darkness.
Weston. Trace Weston. Her Trace.
He was gone, and, soon, she would be dying, too.
Because there was no escape from the darkness. Or from the monster that waited there with her.
“Skye! Dammit, wake the fuck up!” Hard hands grabbed her. Shook her.
Tore her right out of the nightmare.
Skye Sullivan’s eyelids flew open. Light surrounded her, flooding from the nearby lamp and spilling onto the rumpled bed.
Trace leaned over her. His hands were wrapped tightly around her upper arms. His blue eyes—so bright that sometimes it almost hurt to look into them—blazed down at her. “You come back to me,” he demanded, his voice a low, deep growl. “You come back now.”
Her heart thudded in a frantic rhythm against her ribs. She couldn’t suck in a breath that was deep enough, and Skye realized that her cheeks were wet with tears.
Because that hadn’t just been a nightmare.
It had been a memory.
Four weeks ago, her ex-lover, Mitch Loxley had kidnapped her. He’d kept her captive in a basement. Starved her. If it hadn’t been for Trace, Skye knew that she would’ve died in that stinking pit.
“I’m back,” she said, but the words were hoarse, as if she’d been screaming.
When Mitch had taken her, she’d screamed for hours. Days? Until her voice broke.
“He can’t hurt you anymore,” Trace said. The faint lines around his eyes tightened as his gaze swept over her face. “Baby, that bastard is rotting in the ground. He won’t hurt anyone.”
Thanks to Trace. Because Trace had killed Mitch.
Memories can’t hurt you.
Lately, that had become her mantra.
Trace bent his head. His lips brushed over her cheek. “I don’t want you crying because of that SOB.”
But she hadn’t been crying for Mitch. She’d been crying because…in that twisted memory, Trace hadn’t come to save her.
Trace had been dead.
She wet her dry lips and stared into his eyes. In one way or another, Trace had been the central point of her life since she’d been fifteen years old.
He’d saved her the first night they met. Her foster brother had been attacking her. Skye had been so certain that no one would hear her cries for help.
Trace had heard her.
Without him, sometimes she feared that she would be lost.
And that scared her to death.
“Make love to me,” she said, the words coming out in that same hoarse, husky tone.
His hold tightened on her.
“I need you,” Skye told him, and it was the truth. Trace was real and strong, and she wanted him to banish the fear that twisted within her.
Her hands rose up. Her fingers sank into the thickness of his midnight black hair, and she pulled his head toward her. Her lips met his. Open. Hungry. Desperate.
She licked his lips. Licked his tongue.
They were in bed. She was naked, tangled in the sheets. She needed—
“I’ll give you anything you want, you know that,” Trace said, biting off the words against her lips. Then he yanked the sheets away from her. Flesh met flesh. He was warm and hard, his body strong with muscles, and he was alive.
His fingers slid down her body. Parted her legs. His fingers stroked her. Eased up and—
“No.” Skye was surprised by the clipped denial that broke from her, but she wasn’t looking for seduction.
She needed pleasure. Release. Fast. Hard.
His jaw tensed.
“You,” Skye whispered. “I need to feel you.”
Her hands curved around his shoulders. Her short nails raked over his flesh. Down, down she went. Her hand slid around his sides, pushed across his rock-hard abs.
Then she was touching his cock. Heavy and full, thrusting toward her. “I don’t want to wait,” Skye said as she stroked him. “I need you, now.”
“You’re not ready, Skye.” His words were a rumble.
“Yes, I am.” She arched toward him. “Trace, please!” She tried to urge him toward her, but Trace was too strong, and he pulled back.
Her heart stopped then.
“Not like this,” he said, the words hard and sharp and—
He kissed her. Deep and long even as he caressed the center of her need. She pushed against him. Because she didn’t want to go slow. She needed fast. One hundred miles an hour. Too fast to think. Too fast to do anything but feel—
He thrust a finger into her. Stretched her.
Not enough. Not even close.
His mouth trailed down her neck. He kissed her throat. Licked her sensitive flesh.
His fingers kept stroking her. Desire built, pulsing through her. But the desire wasn’t enough. It wasn’t going to be enough, not until he was in her. Skye arched toward him. Her legs wrapped around his hips.
But Trace’s hands caught her legs and pushed them back down.
No, she wanted him.
Trace slid down—
And he put his mouth on her.
Pleasure came then, surging through her and a moan broke from her lips.
“Much fucking better,” Trace growled. “Now, we do this.”
He positioned his body and drove into her. Deep. So deep. She stared into his eyes, those bright, glittering eyes. Stared right into that blue even as the bed shook beneath her. He thrust, again and again. Harder.
There was no more thinking. Only feeling.
Meeting him. Thrust for thrust.
Sweat slickened their bodies.
She couldn’t look away from his gaze.
His hands had locked around her hips. He lifted her up, holding her easily, as he thrust. Every muscle in her body tightened. She was so close to release. So close—
Pleasure exploded. The release burst over her with an impact that took her breath away. She shuddered and quaked, and he was there. Trace stiffened against her. Held her even tighter. The hot surge of his release filled her.
Tremors shook her sex. Shook her.
But the memories of fear and death were gone. Pleasure surrounded her.
Because Trace surrounded her.
In that moment, Skye could almost convince herself that she was safe.
The thunder of her heartbeat slowly eased its mad drumming. She became aware of other sounds then. The rush of waves, the pounding of the water against the shore.
The scent of the ocean.
She wasn’t in Chicago. Not New York. They’d escaped together, and Trace had taken her down to the Florida Keys.
She wasn’t supposed to be cold there. She wasn’t supposed to be afraid.
His lips feathered over her cheek. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Skye shook her head.
“He’s dead. I won’t ever let anyone hurt you again.”
Her lashes lifted, and she found herself staring up into Trace’s eyes once more. She’d always felt like Trace could see straight into her soul.
Past the pretenses that she gave to others.
Right to her core.
Trace Weston. His face was hard, strong. Slashing cheekbones. A square, tight jaw. Lips that were cut in the faintest of cruel lines.
One look, and a smart woman knew he was dangerous.
Skye knew, and she didn’t care.
He’d killed for her. She probably should have been afraid of him. She wasn’t.
Because, deep down, Skye knew the truth.
I’d kill for him, too.
With each day that passed, she was discovering a new darkness within herself.
Maybe that was why she’d always been drawn to Trace. They were the same.
He slowly withdrew from her. Stood. He stared down at her, his legs brushing against the side of the bed. “You have to talk to someone.”
No, she didn’t. What she had to do was shove the memories into the deepest, darkest part of her mind.
And move the hell on.
That was what she’d done before, when her parents had died. Burying the pain and the dark memories—that was the way she survived. Her coping mechanisms had gotten her through life.
One stumbling step at a time.
“The nightmares aren’t stopping.” His hands clenched into powerful fists as he stared down at her. “You need to—”
“I have what I need,” she said, and she rose from the bed, too. Skye pulled the sheet with her, letting it cover her body. Trace had never cared for modesty. She shouldn’t either, but Skye still found herself pulling the sheet closer. “Talking to some shrink isn’t going to magically fix me.”
A loud, insistent ringing cut through his words.
Saved by the bell.
Skye glanced to the right. Trace’s phone waited on the small nightstand.
“It can damn well wait,” he muttered. “You should—”
But she’d leaned forward to see the screen. “It’s Reese. You’d better talk to him.” Because Reese Stokes was Trace’s right-hand man. A bodyguard, a friend—one of the few confidants that Trace actually had in the world.
“Go ahead,” Skye urged him. “It could be important.” She headed for the bathroom. Took the silken robe that waited on the hook behind the door. “I’ll be outside.”
The ringing stopped just as she opened the balcony door.
When she heard Trace answer the call, Skye stepped outside. The pounding of the surf was louder. The salty scent of the ocean filled her nose.
A private island.
Trace didn’t do things half-way. Since the guy was a freaking billionaire now, he could have anything or anyone that he wanted…with just a snap of his fingers.
The wind blew her robe back against her, molding the silk to her body.
Skye headed for the churning waves. The light of the moon glinted off the water, making it look almost black.
She walked toward that beckoning darkness.
One foot, in front of the other.
These days, that was the only way she could get through life.
The waves hit her feet, and they washed away the foot prints that she’d left behind.
“Reese, this had better be damn important,” Trace Weston snarled as his fingers tightened around the phone.
He’d jerked on a pair of jeans and then followed Skye out onto the balcony. He stood now, watching her as she walked along the shore. The waves crashed against her feet.
Skye. His beautiful, lost Skye.
The nightmares weren’t stopping, and the pain in her green eyes seemed to be getting worse with each passing day.
The trip to the Keys had been designed to heal her wounds.
Not make them worse.
“Boss, you’re not going to believe who dropped by for a little visit today.” Reese’s voice flowed easily over the line.
Trace kept his eyes on Skye. Was she going into the water?
“Ben Sharpe was here, looking for you.”
A hard breath blew from Trace. The name was from his past, a blood-soaked past that he’d tried to bury. “What the hell did he want?”
“The guy said he had a message. One that he could only give to you.”
“But, there was…there was something about his eyes…” Now hesitation had entered Reese’s voice, and that in itself was damn unusual. “The man’s been unstable for years, hell, I know that, but this was different.”
Trace didn’t take his eyes off Skye. Her scent was on him. She’d marked him in ways that went far beneath the skin.
“He was afraid,” Reese added. “Terrified.”
“Everyone is afraid of something,” Trace murmured. He’d learned to fear recently. Before, he tried to fool himself into thinking that he was invulnerable.
Then a bastard had tried to take Skye from him.
No one takes her.
She’d waded into the water. She looked so small out there.
And her robe was getting soaked.
“He came to the penthouse,” Reese told him, “not the security agency.”
Weston Securities wasn’t just an agency. It was the biggest private security firm in the United States. Trace had built it with blood and sweat. And with the aid of secrets. So many deadly secrets.
“Tell me you have a man on him,” Trace said. Because Reese would understand how important—and volatile—Ben could be.
Reese had been in hell with Trace. They’d both survived.
As had Ben…
Well, Ben had mostly survived.
The waves crashed into Skye. She stumbled.
Trace surged forward.
“Yeah, a guy’s on him,” Reese said, sounding annoyed now. “Jeez, boss, what do you think this is? Amateur hour? I’m calling because I thought you’d want to know. I thought this news might make you get your ass off that island. You have to come back home sooner or later.”
Yes, he did.
He’d let Skye hide long enough.
The nightmares aren’t going away. This place doesn’t make her feel any safer.
“We’ll be coming back on the jet tomorrow.”
Reese’s breath rustled over the line. “Good. Good, but…is she…okay?”
The waves crashed into her again. This time, Skye didn’t stumble. She stood strong. “She’s not going to break.” Because he wouldn’t let her.
I need her too much.
“Make sure the guards are in place,” Trace directed. Because he wouldn’t be taking any chances.
“They’re ready and waiting.”
Good. Trace ended the call. He tossed his phone onto the hammock near the edge of the balcony, then he hurried down the wooden steps that would take him to the beach and to her.
She didn’t turn at his approach. Trace wasn’t even sure that Skye could hear him, not over the rough pounding of the surf.
Her long, dark hair trailed over her back. Her hands were lifted up, as if she’d touch the waves. Her body was delicate, lithe, a true dancer’s body, but she’d become too fragile since her abduction.
She didn’t look back.
He followed her into the surf, not caring that his jeans got soaked, but he did say, “Baby, you’re getting your robe wet, you—”
She glanced over her shoulder at him.
The moonlight fell on her face. Her high cheekbones. The gentle curve of her jaw. The straight line of her nose.
Her fuck-me lips.
The woman had a mouth that always made him think of sin. A mouth that made him need.
Her stare held his. It was too dark for him to see the green color of her eyes or to read any emotion in her gaze.
“We’re going home, aren’t we?” Skye asked.
Home. Back to Chicago. He nodded.
“Then let’s go out in style,” she said, and she slipped off the robe.
She tossed the robe toward him. He caught it, his hands flying up in a reflexive action.
Skye’s laughter teased his ears. He loved that sound. Happy. Free. She hadn’t sounded that way in so long.
His fingers fisted in the robe.
Naked now, Skye dove into the waves.
He tossed the robe onto the beach behind him.
“Come and get me…” Her words taunted him when she broke through the surface of the water.
That was exactly what he planned to do.
Trace stalked into the water.
She won’t break.
Her laughter reached him once more, banishing the chill that had crept over him when he’d awoken to the sound of her screams.
Skye was stronger than most people realized.
Her arms reached for him.
He held her tight and knew that he couldn’t let her go.
Ben Sharpe hunched his shoulders as he turned and hurried into the alley.
He knew he was being followed. He’d known for a while now.
Death was coming. Stalking him with slow, certain steps.
He had a debt to repay before he died. His father had always taught him that a man had to pay his debts.
One way or another.
He owed Trace Weston. He’d pay him.
The faintest shuffle of a footstep reached Ben’s ears. His gaze flew to the mouth of the alley.
Death had been after him for years now.
After him. After Trace.
You could only run for so long.
The faint shuffle came again.
Before the past catches you…
His fingers curled around the knife that he always kept close. Death wasn’t going to have an easy time taking him.
He planned to fight for every moment that he had left.
And if he had to, he’d kill to keep living.
He knew how to kill. He was good at it.
Thanks to Weston.
And I’ll repay that debt…
Even if it was the last fucking thing he did.