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Authors: Jackie Ashenden

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BOOK: Kidnapped by the Billionaire
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She stared at him.

He stared back. If she wanted to know the truth, he'd give it to her. “I was going to kill him, but Eva fucking King took that honor for herself. So instead, I'm going to use you. You're my bait, Violet. Jericho wants you, which makes you the perfect tool to flush him out.” He smiled again. “Because since your prick of a father is already dead, I'm going to kill Jericho instead.”

*   *   *

Violet sat on the couch as Elijah disappeared into the kitchen area, the sounds of cupboards being opened and food being prepared drifting out.

She felt frozen. Like she'd been thrown outside into a snowbank naked.

Your father is dead. Your father was a murderer. Your father ran one of the biggest crime rings in New York.…

No. No. No. It couldn't be. That wasn't true.

Oh sure. Like you never thought that something about Dad was wrong. That he was hiding something, concealing something. Something you could never put a finger on and were too frightened to want to find out.

She swallowed, staring down at the handcuffs around her wrists, glittering among the silver already there.

It was too much, too big to get her head around.

Grief thickened in her throat, because whatever else was true about what Elijah had said—if indeed any of it was true—her father had still been her father. Sure, he'd been kind of distant and closed off, never physical in the slightest, but he'd gone to all her school plays. Encouraged her with her homework. Supported her academic achievements, never pushed her to do more the way her precise and very particular mother had.

It wasn't until she'd been around twelve, about a year after they'd lost Theo, that she'd realized there was something about her dad that disturbed her. He'd get a cold look in his eye. A look that made her feel as if another man was looking out from behind those blue eyes she knew so well.

It had frightened her. But she'd thought it was grief and so had pretended not to see it.

Apparently she'd been wrong. Perhaps it hadn't been grief at all. Perhaps it had been there all along.

Nausea churned in her gut. She stumbled to her feet and headed for the bathroom, shouldering through the door and staggering over to the toilet. Then she dropped to her knees on the white tiles and retched into the bowl as her stomach heaved.

Afterward she sagged to the side, closing her eyes and leaning her head against the tiled wall, shudders shaking her.

Maybe it wasn't true. Maybe Elijah had lied to her about everything. But then those marks on his face … He hadn't gotten those for the fun of it, that was for sure. And why would he lie anyway? He had nothing to gain from it, surely?

Tears slipped down her cheeks and she let them fall for a minute or two, needing to get rid of the heavy stone of grief and pain in some way.

Better to concentrate on one thing at a time, such as the loss of a father.

Anything else would have to wait.

She didn't know how long she sat there, but all of a sudden, strong fingers wound around her arm and she was being hauled ignominiously to her feet.

“Save your tears.” Elijah's cold, rough voice in her ear. “He wasn't worth any of them.”

Violet didn't say anything. She didn't want to talk to him right now. Didn't want to hear that voice of his hurling icy truths at her. Truths that hit her far harder than any bullet.

Really, it would have hurt less if he'd just shot her in the leg like he'd said.

“Yes,” he said as he flushed the toilet and dragged her back out to the lounge area. “That would probably have been a lot less painful for all concerned.”

Oh shit. She must have said it aloud.

He sat her once more on the couch, in among the detritus she'd pulled out from her purse, and she didn't have any energy to fight him. “Why didn't you then?” she only said. “I think I would have preferred it.”

“The truth would have come out one way or another.” He stepped back, giving her a cold look. “Anyway, why should I spare you? You've been successfully looking the other way for years now, just like your mother. You deserve the truth shoved in your face.”

Behind the grief, guilt waited. Because hadn't she known? Hadn't she realized deep down that things weren't quite right?

“It's not my fault,” she said tonelessly. “I didn't know what he was.”

“Purposefully.”

Of course it was purposefully. You didn't want to know.

She looked away. “He was my father.”

“He was also a murderer.”

A little flash of anger went through her at the sheer implacability in his tone. Turning back, she looked up at him, standing there all dressed in black, expressionless as a brick wall. “What the hell do you care? You worked for him. Didn't you know? And come to think of it, how do I know you're telling the truth about any of this in the first place?”

“Of course I knew.” His gaze didn't waver from hers. “And you should believe me because I was his right-hand man.”

 

CHAPTER THREE

She hadn't expected that, though why she had no idea, since if anyone looked like a criminal it was this cold, pitiless man. Yet she couldn't deny the shock that spread through her, already joining the acid still sitting in the pit of her stomach.

God, if she didn't get herself together, she was going to need to throw up again.

“Okay then,” she said shakily. “So you're a monster just like Dad.”

His scarred, bruised mouth turned up in another of those terrifying smiles. “We're all monsters deep down, princess. Even you.”

Something lurched inside her at that, but she ignored it. “I thought you were just his bodyguard.”

“I was his bodyguard, but I also did other things.”

“I don't want to know.”

“Don't worry. I'm not going to tell you.”

“And yet you had no problem telling me that Dad was a—”

“That's because it concerned you. Whatever else I did, doesn't.”

Her stomach twisted. “So, why haven't you killed me? What do you want with me?”

His fathomless black gaze was utterly unreadable. “I already told you why. Because I want to use you. And you're no good to me dead.”

“But apparently incapacitated is fine.”

“Yes.”

Her stomach twisted in another knot. “Oh, Jesus, I'm going to be sick.”

“No, you're not.” He moved over to the low table beside the couch and picked up the glass of water sitting on it. Then he handed it to her, along with a small white pill. “Here, take this.”

“What? You're going to drug me too?”

“Fine. Throw up if you want. But you'll be cleaning it up.”

Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.

Violet grabbed the pill and put it in her mouth, then took the glass and a hefty swallow of water. Maybe, if she was lucky, it would be Valium. God knew, she could use one right about now.

“What was that?” She handed back the empty water glass to him, her mouth tasting marginally less vile.

“An antinausea pill.”

“Great, so you're looking after me now?” A weird kind of euphoria had started to move through her and since the pill clearly hadn't been Valium, it must mean she was in shock. Or something. Whatever, the fear and nausea had started to drop away as if knowing the worst, she had nothing left to be afraid of. Except for a gunshot wound of course.

“You're an investment and I have to protect it.” He gave her a once-over that was the very definition of impersonal. “Are you hungry?”

“No.” Not a lie. The thought of food made her feel sick again, especially if he'd made it for her.

“Fine. I have to take care of a couple of things. I've left you some food on the counter in the kitchen. And for future reference, there's nothing sharp in there you can use as a weapon. But good luck if you want to use the frying pan.”

He turned and started heading in the direction of the front door.

So he was leaving? Well, excellent. She wanted him to be gone. Maybe once he was, she could start trying to figure out how to escape, or at least how to contact someone who could help her.

“How long are you going to be?”

“I don't know. But don't worry, you'll be quite safe here.”

“But not safe from you.”

He stopped, as massive as a modern gladiator, the black cotton of his hoodie stretching over his wide shoulders, and turned his head, tar-black eyes sweeping over her. “Princess, no one is safe from me.”

A shiver of fear broke through the weird euphoria.

Yeah, that she could believe.

The apartment door clicked shut five minutes later, leaving her mercifully alone; and for a long moment she just sat there as the pill he'd given her calmed her roiling stomach.

Then, once she was feeling a little better, she got to her feet to have a bit of a look around.

The apartment was huge, a great echoing space that seemed to occupy the whole top floor of the building. The kitchen was in one corner, an industrial, bare-looking affair that had the basic amenities but not much more, while the lounge where she'd sat occupied the whole right side of the apartment. Because the space was so massive, with a soaring ceiling, it made all the furniture seem far too small for the room, as if they too were cowering.

A couch, a low coffee table, and, most weirdly of all, a lonely thick, colorful rag-rolled rug. It looked like a setting from another room that had been plonked into the space without regard for the surroundings. A little island in the sea of the vast wood floor.

On the opposite side of the apartment was nothing but more bare floorboards and open space. A punching bag hung from a beam, a treadmill and stationary bike not far from it. Another little island of purpose.

There wasn't anything else of much interest or use, apart from a few bookshelves filled haphazardly with a strange collection of books. Classics and thrillers, sci-fi and romance, with a few cozy mysteries thrown in for good measure. She could see Elijah reading the thrillers, but he didn't strike her as an intellectual kind of guy for the classics. And there was no way he'd be reading the romances.

It was weird.

There wasn't anything personal hanging around either, apart from the books. No photos or pictures, no knickknacks. Not even a potted plant.

Frustrated, she wandered over to the doorway that led to the bathroom and went down the little hall. After a quick search of the bathroom failed to turn up anything useful, she continued on down to the end of the hallway to where it opened up into a huge bedroom.

It was as bare as the rest of the apartment.

A massive bed was pushed into a corner up against a window, and it clearly hadn't been slept in. There were no creases in the crisp black sheets; they looked like they'd just been ironed.

Against the opposite wall stood a chest of drawers, but a cursory rifle through them turned up nothing but practical, plain male clothing.

Violet cursed as she slammed the drawer back.

Why couldn't there have been a handy gun just lying around? It didn't matter that she didn't know how to fire one, at least it would have given her an option.

Slowly, she walked over to the windows and looked out.

The cold, steel blue of the river flowed, snow falling in fat, white flakes. People moved on the sidewalks and traffic drove along the streets, the world going on as if nothing had happened. As if she wasn't the prisoner of some scary dude who'd kidnapped her at gunpoint and was going to use her as bait.

Your father is dead. Your father was a monster.

She leaned her head against the cold glass, the handcuffs heavy around her wrists.

Her eyes prickled with tears.

She'd known there was something wrong with him. Deep down, she'd known. But she'd ignored what her gut was trying to tell her because she hadn't wanted to face it. Her suspicions about Theo's death already haunted her; she didn't want to have suspicions about her father as well, not after she'd lost her brother, the one person in her life she could count on.

In fact, since Theo had disappeared—she'd always refused to believe he was dead—she'd had no one except Honor, her best friend since high school. She hadn't talked to Honor about Theo before, but the moment that lead had come through, she'd wanted to go straight to her friend and lay it all out for her. Because if she was going to track Theo down, she was going to need help. Perhaps Honor might even get Gabriel Woolf, her boyfriend, to help too..

She went still all of a sudden as she remembered something.

Hadn't she texted Honor? Yeah, she
had.
She hadn't gotten a return text, but hers at least had gone through. Which meant that Honor knew Violet wanted to talk to her and might be trying to contact her.

How long would it take for her to realize Violet wasn't answering her texts? How long before she realized she was missing?

Another thought struck her.

If her father was dead, then all hell would have broken loose.

Someone would be trying to get hold of her. Someone would be trying to find her.

Who? Your mother? Like she gives a shit …

Violet pushed the thought away. No, someone would. Honor would.

She swallowed, the small knot of fear beginning to loosen a little bit. It would probably take a day or two for Honor to realize she was actually missing, but then the hunt would be on. Of course actually finding her would be another story.

A wave of sudden exhaustion swept through her.

She'd been kidnapped at gunpoint, locked into an apartment, shot at, forced to take a bullet out of someone's shoulder, and she had thrown up. She was officially sick of being scared. Sick of being angry. Sick of the grief and the guilt that waited for her if she thought too much about it.

A person could only take so much before they just shut down.

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