Authors: Nancy Haviland
ALSO BY NANCY HAVILAND
Wanted Men Novels
A Love of Vengeance
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Nancy Haviland
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Kerrie Robertson
Library of Congress Control Number:
To the survivors.
It was coming. She knew it.
Nika Paynne walked numbly through the colorless living room. Beige. Everything was beige. Bland. Lifeless. Like her. The walls, carpet, coffee and end tables, couch, chair, ottoman. All of it.
She’d known earlier when she’d cajoled her best friend into going to a club rather than somewhere for a quiet coffee that the night would most likely end badly. For her anyway. But she hadn’t cared. She’d been desperate to rebel, to do something out of the norm. Now that the consequences of her insurgence were upon her, she wished she had kept her mouth shut.
Her lip should have remained zipped at the club, too. She shouldn’t have said what little she had to Eva about her situation. Going on about moving to New York as soon as she was able had made her best friend more suspicious than she already was.
Nika knew she shouldn’t have gone out at all.
Because now it was only a matter of time. She’d gone too far. Shouldn’t have been so eager to get away that it had made her indifferent to the monster she lived with.
The department-store artwork hanging above the tattered sofa didn’t register as she passed by—she was too focused on making it down the short hallway to the bedroom.
Praying she’d get there alone.
There was nothing worse than when he joined her in bed, pulling her too tightly into his too-warm body, holding her captive even while she attempted to sleep. Thank God his pride didn’t allow it very often anymore. He couldn’t do anything in that bed
sleep, and Nika was pretty sure that had saved her sanity.
Anxiety roved her spine, filling her chest with that suffocating feeling so familiar she barely noticed it anymore. She breathed through it, short, shallow pants. Pulling in another tight breath, she took a moment to revel in the pain-free state of her body. Because it wouldn’t be that way for long. She raised her arm, her nape tingling because she knew Kevin was but steps behind her, and reached for the light switch on the—
It was here.
Even as the expected horror flooded her, causing a sheet of ice to coat her skin, she allowed no outward reaction. Refused to give this evil sonofabitch the satisfaction. She used to, though. In the beginning. Before she realized how much Kevin loved seeing her fear. Before she realized how much he loved hearing her beg.
“Stop! I’ll do what you want, Kevin. You don’t have to hurt me.”
Stupid words. Idiotic assumption that he didn’t
to hurt her. She’d been a quick study on the begging, only going through the scenario twice before she’d caught on to his game. Both times he’d relaxed the tension in his body, which had loosened the bruising grip he’d had on her arms. He’d waited for her to sag in relief, thinking she’d gotten through to him, and then he’d backhanded her to the floor and smiled down at her as she wiped the blood from her mouth.
She would forever rue those first weeks when she’d allowed Kevin to witness her emotions—shock, disbelief, fear, humiliation, anger. And then depression, exhaustion, hopelessness.
In that order.
There was little satisfaction in knowing he hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing those things in months now, because she was still terrified of him and what he represented: her helpless confinement.
Her stomach lurched violently when she heard him move.
“You gonna make me repeat myself, Niki?”
He was right behind her now. “Kevin.” Her head lowered in that subservient pose that used to have her choking with fury. Now it just made her hopeful it might work. She’d long ago lost the voice in her head that used to shout,
This isn’t who you are! Don’t let him do this to you!
Sure, she’d been raised to be strong and independent. Not some cruel bastard’s cowed punching bag. But that’s what she’d become. And she hated to admit it, but she’d accepted that.
She’d accepted it, would remain in this role, but
until she found the damning evidence Kevin had on Caleb. For him, her beloved big brother and her only family, she would take this. It was no less than he would do for her.
“I apologized in the car, Kevin. I said I was sorry and it won’t happen ag—”
She was cut off when he grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head back so hard moisture flooded her eyes. Her scalp stung where some strands were pulled out. Her shoes, which she’d been carrying, fell from her fingers, and she had to bite her lip so she wouldn’t cry out. Another paltry shot at not giving this fiend what he wanted.
Quickly blinking her vision clear, Nika found herself staring into the depraved face she loathed. She could see the crazy in his eyes. And it was bone-chilling.
“What did you think was gonna happen tonight, you sneaky bitch? Did you think I was just gonna sit around and wait for you to come home? Ask you if you had a good time whoring with that slut?”
She closed her eyes to the malice pouring from him and remained silent—but for the air now sawing in and out of her lungs. Maybe if she didn’t try to defend herself, he would go away.
Ridiculous to hope, but it was all she had.
He jerked her to the side and shoved her into the spare bedroom. Stumbling over her own feet, self-preservation kicked in and Nika started to struggle.
Don’t! You’re only giving him what he wants! You’re setting yourself up for disappointment because fighting him doesn’t do any good!
Her pride’s silent protest went unheeded. She got in one good punch, her knuckles connecting with Kevin’s ribs.
He grunted. “Oh, yeah. Fight me, slave.” That nickname and the warped sense of excitement that surfaced in his voice made Nika freeze. Oh, how she hated when he called her that. “It’s always better when you fight me.”
She grew silent, as she’d become accustomed to doing, but in her mind she screamed one graphically violent threat after another as she forced her arms to her sides.
Stars exploded behind her lids in the next second as Kevin’s closed fist connected with the side of her head. No longer her face. Couldn’t cover that up. Took too long to heal.
, that hurt
, she thought dazedly. And down she went, easily, because she did nothing to stop it. Suddenly she was on her stomach, him holding her there with her cheek mashed to the bristly carpet, his knee jammed between her shoulder blades so hard she could barely breathe.
He came down close, his lips pressing into her ear, his beer breath forcing her to swallow a gag. “You’re so fucking weak, Niki.”
No. I’m not weak. I’m strong. Strong enough to beat you at this game you’re playing. And I
Nika’s mind tried to bolster her with its usual pep talk, but it lacked conviction. Just as it had the last few times this had happened. Eleven times. Eleven beatings. Countless slaps across the head as warnings. And she’d only been his prisoner for ten months. This would be beating twelve. An even dozen.
“And you’re so stupid I think you do this shit on purpose. Takin’ off like a fucking criminal.” Kevin barked out a laugh as she felt his weight shift off her. “Hanging out with that cunt, even though you know I hate her guts.” The sounds of objects rattling indicated he had his hand in his bag of toys.
Please not the metal pipe. Please not the metal pipe . . .
“Now you’re gonna pay for embarrassing me.” He’d obviously settled on something because the rattling ceased. “You’re lucky I didn’t come at you in the club when I saw you sitting there lookin’ over every guy in the place like some bitch in heat. What were you gonna do, Niki? Let ’em take turns fucking you? Were you gonna take on two at once? Maybe three . . . ?”
The insults kept coming, getting cruder and more explicit, but they might as well have been a cool breeze for how much attention she paid them. But the rising madness in his voice?
registered, and all she could do then was pray he tired quickly.
“Where’s your lip now, slave? Nothin’ to say? That’s ’cause you’re a dumb coward and—”
“Fuck you!” The words tore from her before she could stop them. “My lip is right here, you fucking bastard! I’m going to kill you! My brother will kill you! He’ll put to shame what you’ve done to me all these months! I’m going to watch the life drain from—”
Kevin shoved at the back of her head until the pressure sealed her jaw shut against the floor.
The first agonizing slam of what she knew was the damned metal pipe nailed her across her upper back; that hated deep, hollow chime echoed in her ears. The instant numbness was almost worse than the flaming pain that followed, and she had to bite her tongue to hold in the cry that belted up her throat, tasting blood when she swallowed. Another whack landed across the back of her arm, going through flesh and muscle to hit bone. Not hard enough to break it, though. No. Too much practice for that. This monster knew just the right amount of force to use to cause the most pain but not to cause another injury she’d have to seek medical treatment for.
He’d only made that mistake once.
“You pull this shit again, or get any ideas in that empty head of yours to tell someone about our arrangement . . .” He leaned forward, his weight making it impossible for her to draw even a miniscule amount of oxygen into her lungs. “I’ll send that shit in, and everyone’ll know what a murdering cocksucker your brother is.” He shifted marginally, allowing her some air, just as another strike nailed her other arm.
Please, let me find it
, she cried silently through the haze of pain and helplessness clouding her mind. She had to find that memory stick that held Caleb’s damning video. Had to. Because she couldn’t take much more of this. If Kevin hadn’t been so paranoid, so much so that he refused to make even a copy of the video or store it online like any sane person would do, she might have found it by now. But no. He had that one small piece of plastic and metal that could be hidden anywhere, and she’d yet to stumble across it, no matter how hard she looked.
“Know what else?” Spittle landed on her cheek from Kevin’s excited question. “You made me unhappy tonight, so I’m gonna return the favor by going ahead with my little plan. Already talked to my cousin about it. He says you’ll be great, Niki. I texted him your picture. They’ll want you, just like the guys at that club tonight, ’cause you’re so fuckin’ beautiful. But you’re mine. I love you, Niki—you know that, right? You’re mine and I love you.”
Nika squeezed her eyes shut at the wonder that had entered his voice and gagged when he buried his face in her hair. Her repulsed shudder made her back throb, but she ignored it, worrying at the fact that Kevin already sounded as if he was losing steam. The disjointed mumblings had started too soon.
“Once you heal up good, we’re gonna make us a movie,” he continued. His sudden approval-seeking tone made her skin crawl. “You’re gonna be great. My cousin is in New York now, and he said he can make us a ton of green with that kinda shit. Guys are gonna watch you take it. You’re mine, Niki. Sorry I hurt you. Didn’t mean to. Don’t know why I do this to you. Love you so much.”
And there it was. Those wet lips and that slimy tongue sliding up her cheek, the pressure of his hips on her rear end as he thrust against her with his flaccid tool. Bile traveled up from her stomach to burn her throat.
Please let me find that memory stick
, she prayed harder, even though she knew no one was listening.
Please. Let me find it before these bruises fade.
“You’re gonna look so fucking hot. Perfect piece of meat for a job like that. You better not like—” He stiffened on top of her and pulled back sharply. “You’re gonna like getting fucked by those cocksuckers, aren’t you?” he shouted, instantly enraged.
The silent scream filled her head, and she started to struggle. This was not the normal way of things. He wasn’t supposed to go again. It was getting worse.
was getting worse. More vicious, she realized, thrashing wildly in an effort to get away. Why? Why now? Could just the thought of some imaginary men having sex with her when he couldn’t because of his impotency be that much of a trigger?
The last thing she heard before the blows started raining down in earnest was an excited, “Oh, yeah. You just try getting away, slave. I’ll never let you.”
A particularly heavy strike to the back of her head had Nika once again falling, with open, welcoming arms, into the blessed relief of unconsciousness.
Hoping, this time, she might stay there forever.