Authors: Jackie Ashenden
She turned from the window, looked at the bed with its perfect black sheets and black velvet quilt. Seemed ridiculously sumptuous for a man like Elijah. A monster of a man.
She couldn't imagine him sleeping in it. But she could imagine herself sleeping in it just fine.
Violet took a couple of steps and sat down on the edge of the bed, sinking down into the softness of the quilt.
Screw him. She was going to sleep in his goddamn bed like Goldilocks. She'd gotten to the beyond-fear stage and was now approaching exhaustion. Besides, it wasn't like she could do anything else with those handcuffs on her wrists.
If he didn't like it, that was too fucking bad.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Elijah adjusted his hoodie further to shield his face, the snow swirling around him. No point scaring civilians with the marks of his fight with Rutherford still all over him.
He'd taken the subway a few stops then gotten out, walked into the first store he'd come across, and bought himself a cheap burner phone.
Now, as he walked back toward the subway station, he punched in the numbers he'd memorized six months back and lifted the phone to his ear. It was ringing, always a good sign. In fact it rang for a good long time before someone answered, a man's rough voice answering in French.
“It's Hunt,” Elijah said in the same language. “Tell Jericho that Fitzgerald is dead and I have what he wants.” He didn't bother waiting for a reply, hitting the disconnect button and sticking the phone in the pocket of his jeans.
Now all he needed to do was wait. Jericho would come to him, of that he had no doubt. The prick wanted Violet quite badly according to Fitzgerald, who'd been playing a dangerous game with the other man for months now. Using his daughter to try and get concessions and new “trade links” to bolster his growing empire.
Not anymore. All Elijah wanted to do was kill the bastard. If he couldn't have Fitzgerald, he'd have the man behind that particular throneâand this time nothing would go wrong.
He'd use Violet as bait to lure Jericho to New York, then he'd put a bullet in him. Simple.
Of course, it probably wouldn't prove to be simple since Jericho was Europe's biggest crime boss and no doubt protected by a small army. Elijah had never actually seen the guy, but Fitzgerald apparently had had meetings with him. No one knew anything about himâhell, Jericho was in all likelihood not even his real nameâbut that didn't matter.
The guy would come for Violet.
What if he doesn't? What if she's not as important to him as you thought?
Then he'd have to rethink his strategy, find something else to use. But that was a bridge he hadn't had to cross yet so no point thinking about it now.
Sirens blared, a cop car roaring past.
Elijah pushed his hands into his pockets.
It would be only a matter of time before someone found Fitzgerald's body and news of his death hit the media. Then the shit would really hit the fan. Violet's disappearance would be noted and they'd be out in force looking for her, which meant he was going to have to lay low for a while, at least until he'd heard from Jericho.
He returned to the apartment by a circuitous route just in case anyone was tailing him, and by the time he'd gotten inside, his wound was aching and he was cold again. Pausing at the door, he jacked the heat up a couple of notches, then gave the room a quick scan to see where his captive had gotten to.
She wasn't there.
Elijah gave the room a more thorough search. The food he'd left for her in the kitchen was untouched and the main living area was empty. Still, there weren't many places she could have gotten to. She couldn't have gotten out, not unless she had the skills to disarm his security system and, since that was top of the line, he was pretty sure she didn't.
Which meant she was either in the bathroom or in the bedroom.
He went down the hallway and glanced into the bathroom. Empty. Continuing down the hall, he came into the bedroom. And sure enough, lying curled up on his bed fast asleep was Violet.
A strange sensation turned over in his gut, though what it was he didn't quite know.
This apartment was full of the furniture from his old life, the life he'd had with Marie. Bits and pieces he hadn't been able to bring himself to get rid of. The rag-rug she'd bought for their first place together. The couch she'd given him as a surprise gift after he'd spent a good hour admiring it in the store. Their bed and the black velvet quilt she'd adored. The one he used to make love to her onÂ â¦
The sensation clenched tight.
Fuck, what the hell was that? It had been years since the memories had forced any kind of emotion from him and he'd made damn sure it stayed that way.
Frowning, he walked slowly over to the bed, gazing down at the woman on it.
She looked very small curled up in the center of the black quilt, wrapped in her blue coat. Her face was relaxed in sleep, the delicate lines of it finely drawn. The sapphire stud in her nose glittered. Her hands were pillowed beneath her head, the metal of the handcuffs and all those silver bracelets pressing against one cheek. She looked like a doll, a hippie Barbie with her blonde dreadlocks all over the black velvet, her bracelets and nose stud. A very young doll.
She was also very pretty, so what the hell was she doing in that getup? What the hell kind of point was she trying to prove? And she was trying to prove a point, of that he had no doubt. He'd always gotten the impression that the face Violet Fitzgerald showed to the world wasn't her real oneâand he should know, he'd hadn't shown the world his real face for years.
Perhaps she didn't know that if you wore a mask long enough it became part of you.
Violet shifted in her sleep, and he noticed the tear tracks under her eyes where her eyeliner had run, leaving black streaks on her cheeks.
The weird feeling inside him lurched. Shit, that was starting to irritate him. And anyway, what the fuck was she doing on this bed? He hadn't had another woman in it since Marie, and he never would. Violet needed to get the fuck off it.
He was just about to shake her awake when her eyes opened and she looked straight at him.
And for a moment, all he could see was deep blue green, his stomach dropping away.
Then she said dully. “Oh. I thought I'd dreamed you.”
The simmering irritation morphed into anger for reasons he couldn't quite identify and he had to concentrate to force it down. “Unfortunately, you didn't. Now get the fuck off the bed. If you want to sleep, there's a perfectly good couch in the living room.”
She ignored him, closing her eyes again and nestling against the black velvet. “No thanks. I'm quite happy here.”
His anger spiked. This wasn't her bed. It was Marie's. And she was fucking trespassing.
Reaching down, Elijah grabbed her upper arm and hauled her bodily off the bed.
Violet cursed. “What the hell are you doing?” She'd lifted her handcuffed hands in an instinctive attempt to grab at something to stop herself from falling, and had gotten a fistful of his T-shirt. The cotton pulled against the wound on his shoulder and he swore, grabbing her by her upper arms to keep her from tearing the material and to keep her hands away from the wound.
Her skin felt soft and very warm, and he was suddenly excruciatingly aware of her fingers gripping his shirt.
She was looking furiously up at him, little blue sparks in her eyes. “What the hell was that for?”
A shock of heat arrowed through him. A heat he hadn't felt for seven years.
Elijah released her, tore her clinging hands from his shirt, and took a couple of steps back, his heart beating strangely fast. Christ, what had gotten into him?
“If I catch you on that bed again,” he said roughly, “I'll put a bullet through you.”
She frowned, brushing her dreadlocks away from her face. “Okay, okay. What's the big deal? It's just a bed.”
“None of your fucking business.” He gritted his teeth, forcing away the feelings that should never have been there in the first place. “Get into the living area. You need to eat something.”
The crease between her fair eyebrows deepened. “But Iâ”
“Do as you're told. I'm not in the mood to be screwed with.”
Slowly, she lowered her hands from her hair, bracelets chiming against the handcuffs as they slid down her wrist. Her gaze narrowed. “Why? Where did you go?”
Did she not see his don't-fuck-with-me look? “Again, none of your fucking business.”
“Yeah? Well, I guess I don't have to eat.”
Her mouth tightened. “I thought you wanted me alive.”
“Somehow, princess, I can't see you starving yourself to death.”
Something steely entered her eyes. “You don't know a thing about me,
She'd always called him that the few times she'd addressed him directly, probably in an attempt to piss her mother off, who always insisted on the right form of address for people. Maybe she said it to annoy him too, because if there was one thing he'd seen of Violet, it was that she liked poking at people, liked getting a reaction.
The only person she never poked at though, was her father.
Maybe because some part of her knew who he was?
Well, whatever the hell the reason was, it didn't make him like her any better and he didn't give two fucks what she called him. Elijah wasn't his real name anyway.
“All I need to know is that you're my goddamn prisoner and that you'd better do what I tell you.”
She looked him up and down, the delicate curve of her upper lip curling. “Or what? You'll shoot me? Go ahead, I could use something to relieve the boredom.”
Did she really have no idea what he was capable of? There was a reason he'd been Fitzgerald's right-hand man for five years and it wasn't because he was good with people.
It was because he'd single-mindedly descended into the darkness right along with his boss.
Because the best way to get to know your prey was to become it.
Elijah put his hands in his pockets, held her furious gaze. Since she knew he wanted her alive, he was going to have to give her something else to be afraid of to keep her biddable. “Did you know I have a basement downstairs?” he said softly. “It's dark, but then you won't need any light because you won't need to see anything.”
She paled a little. “I'm not afraid of the dark.”
Bravado. He could see the small flash of fear that sparked in her eyes. “I'll keep you down there, Violet. And I'll lock the door.” He kept his voice flat and uninflected. “If you don't want to eat, I'm sure you won't mind a couple of days without food.”
Her gaze flickered, all the remaining color in her cheeks draining away. Then that steely determination flashed. “Someone's going to come for me,” she said suddenly, fiercely. “They'll know you took me. They'll find you.”
He gave a short, mirthless laugh. “And how are they going to do that? No one knows this place even exists. I know how to cover my tracks, believe me.” He let her see the darkness inside him, gave her a little taste of the fear she should be feeling. “And anyway, who's going to come for you?”
Finally, a look of genuine fear crossed her face. “My mother. She'llâ”
With the instinct of a hunter who knew he'd dealt a killing blow, Elijah took a slow step toward her. “Your mother?” he echoed. “Because she cares so much about you? No, princess. No one is coming for you. And that's what you're really afraid of, isn't it?
She backed away from him, her face white, the dark circles beneath her eyes stark against her skin. “I have my friend. I have Honor. She'll know I'm missing soon enough. She cares.”
He knew about Honor. Knew the dangerous man she was with too. But neither Honor nor Gabriel Woolf was a threat because they wouldn't find him. No one would.
“But how long will it take before she knows you're missing? Perhaps she's too busy with other things. Perhaps she'll think you've left the country.” He kept walking toward her, backing her up until she was against the exposed brick of the bedroom wall. “Perhaps she's too distracted with her new friends to notice that you're no longer around.”
A spark of pain flared in Violet's eyes as she flattened herself against the wall and his hunting instincts sharpened. Yes, this was where she was weak, this was her vulnerability. It was a purely logical observation, that weird sensation in his gut entirely gone now, thank Christ.
“There's only one person coming for you, Violet,” he went on, coldly, implacably. “And when he gets here, I'm going to give you to him.” Elijah didn't come any closer, but then he didn't need to. He'd proved his point, shown her who was boss. “And then I'm going to kill him.”
Violet hated him. She honest to God hated him. And if she'd had a gun on hand and the chance of a free shot, she'd have put a bullet through that hard, scarred face of his without a second's hesitation.
Unfortunately she did not have either a gun or a free shot.
What she had was a crap night's sleep spent on the couch in a pair of handcuffs, nightmares about being thrown down a dark hole into a cave of tunnels and being forced to run through them with something horrible chasing her, and a clawing sense of panic sitting in her stomach.
On the coffee table in front of her was the breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast he'd cooked for her, that she'd only picked at since her appetite appeared to have vanished utterly, while Elijah himself sat at the glass-topped dining table not far away, all his attention bent on the laptop he had open on it.
He looked like he'd had a great night's sleep, the prick, the shadows gone from beneath his eyes, the drawn look from his face. Which made her hate him even more.