Rapture Island

Dark Obsession

(Rapture Island 4)

Erotic Consensual BDSM Romantic Suspense, bondage, sex toys, HEA

Just as Leslie Carpenter began to get her life together, an assault sent her back to the helpless girl she used to be. Jordan King rescued her, and being with him made her realize just what kind of woman she wanted to be. Strong. Secure. Confident enough to handle a man like him. When her boss pressured her into a sexless marriage in order to conceal his homosexuality from voters, Leslie agreed, jumping at the chance to get Jordan the government contract he wanted so badly.

Furious that she’d married another man, Jordan vowed to get Leslie back, his rage at her growing as quickly as his love. But Leslie had found something he hadn’t given her—a chance to build her confidence. Seven years without Leslie wore on Jordan, and when the senator was murdered, he rushed to bring her home.

But the murderer needed something from Leslie, and he would go to any lengths to get it.

Excerpt

Jordan King looked like a man who could handle himself on the streets of her old neighborhood as well as he could in a boardroom.

Or a bedroom.

He murmured something to Thomas as he carried her into the elevator, and when the other man nodded, Jordan pushed the button with a sigh.

Lifting her head, she met his look of concern with a smile.

“I’m sorry you have to carry me.”

Her head dropped onto his shoulder again, her eyes fluttering closed no matter how hard she tried to keep them open.

“It’s no trouble. You’ve had a rough day. Once I get you settled in the spare bedroom, I’ll fix you some scrambled eggs.”

“You cook?”

She didn’t know why she was surprised.

Jordan King appeared to be the kind of man who could do anything he set his mind to.

“I had to learn.”

The ping of the elevator jerked her out of her light doze. Lifting her head, she looked up at him.

“Why?”

Striding into the apartment, Jordan glanced down at her, his eyes flat.

“Because my business partner was killed and I became his son’s ward. Growing teenagers are always hungry.”

“Oh.” She glanced around, taking in the sophisticated furnishings. “Is he here?”

Jordan’s lips twitched. “No. He’s on tour and then on to college.”

“Tour?” Her eyes kept closing, and it became harder and harder to open them again.

“He a magician.” He paused at the first doorway and opened the door. “Be still. I don’t want to bump your ankle.”

“Okay.”

He sat her on the edge of what appeared to be a king-sized bed and turned on the bedside lamp.

“Do you have to use the bathroom?”

Surprised that he didn’t appear the least embarrassed to ask the question, Leslie smiled.

“No, thank you. The nurse helped me before I left. Thank you again for letting me stay here.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll go get one of my shirts for you to sleep in.”

Leslie nodded, looking down at her blood-stained and torn clothing. “Thank you. I’m sorry to be putting you to so much trouble.

He turned from the doorway with a smile. “No trouble at all, Leslie. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as he left, she stood on her uninjured foot, holding on to the bed as she worked what remained of her tattered pantyhose off.

She’d lost one shoe somehow, and the other had a broken heel, so she’d thrown it away in the emergency room.

Stiffening at the sound of voices coming from the living room, she turned toward the doorway, waiting for Jordan to appear again.

It was silent for several long seconds before he came through the doorway, this time carrying a button-down shirt and wearing a scowl.

He was also barefoot and shirtless.

Wide shoulders and clearly delineated muscles in his arms, chest, and abdomen had adrenaline pumping through her veins again, her mouth going dry.

Lifting her gaze to his, she burned under his steady stare.

“You shouldn’t be standing.” He rushed forward, tossing the shirt onto the bed and closing his hand on her uninjured upper arm. “Sit down before you fall. Now, Leslie.”

“I wanted to get rid of my pantyhose. I heard voices.” Sucking in a breath when he slid a knife from his pocket, Leslie backed away. “What are you doing?”

Jordan sighed. “Your shirt is ruined anyway, and it’ll be far less painful to cut it off of you than to try to work it off. Be still.”

With an efficiency she’d come to expect of him, he cut her shirt from her and tossed it aside.

He did the same with her blood-soaked bra, leaving her naked from the waist up.

With a cry, she rushed to cover herself, crying out again at the pull to her arm.

With a curse, Jordan closed the knife and slid it back into his pocket. “For God’s sake, Leslie, I’m not going to attack you. Your bra had blood all over it. Don’t put that shirt on yet. I’ll get you a towel to cover yourself until I can wash the blood off.”

When he disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, Leslie covered her breasts with her good arm, wincing at the pain in her other side.

Lifting the arm covering her breasts to look down at herself, she sucked in a breath when she saw that a large bruise had formed on her ribcage where her attacker had slammed her against the wall.

“Look at you.” Jordan came back into the room with a bowl of steaming water, a bottle of shower gel, a towel, and a washcloth, his bare feet silent on the thick carpet.

Even his feet were beautiful.

She hurriedly covered herself again, her sense of vulnerability increasing when he set the bowl on the floor and knelt in front of her.

“I can do it.”

Jordan bent to examine the large bruise, a muscle working in his jaw.

“I doubt that very much. Damn it, Leslie, you’re a mess.”

He wet the washcloth and squirted some of the gel onto it. “I know you don’t know me, but I’ve been nothing but gentle with you. I have no plans to hurt you. I just want to get you cleaned up and comfortable. You’ll sleep better once you’re clean, have some food in your stomach, and in about an hour, you can take a pain pill and a dose of your antibiotic.”

Feeling extremely vulnerable, she met his gaze and reached out her other hand for the washcloth.

“I can do it.”

Looking into her eyes, he smiled faintly.

“The longer you want to fight this, the longer it’ll be before I help you into that shirt. Now, be still so I can wash this blood off of you.”

Lowering her arm again, Leslie frowned.

“You’re awfully bossy.”

Watching her eyes, Jordan gently lifted her injured arm. “Baby, you have no idea.”

Sin’s Magic

(Rapture Island 3)

Veronica Sands needs help from world-renowned magician Sinclair Majors, but with him, she finds more than she could have imagined. Her fantasy of submitting, one she has always feared exploring, becomes reality, sending her into the world of pleasure and love she yearns for.

The first time Sin lays eyes on Veronica, he knows he wants her for his own, and he is more than willing to help her explore her fantasies. But Veronica proves more threatening to his control than he anticipates. He falls in love with her almost at once, her eagerness, sweet nature, and willingness to experiment delighting him. But he needs her to trust him with more than her body.

When he discovers that she hid the truth about a man who had been stalking her, he’s almost too late to rescue her, and he knows that things have to change. She’s his, and it’s about time she learns what that means.

Excerpt

His black suit couldn’t disguise the strength beneath it, his lean, muscular frame moving with a grace that only a powerful body could.

Her breath caught each time he smiled, and when he held out a hand to help his scantily clad assistant into a box, a surge of jealousy caught her off guard.

He lifted the other woman with an ease that reinforced the sense of power surrounding him.

Veronica pressed her thighs together at the unwelcome heat that settled there, her already ragged breath catching when his gaze met hers.

His eyes widened briefly and then narrowed, laser-sharp as they held hers.

The roaring in her ears blocked out the sound of the music accompanying his show, and for a minute, she truly thought she would pass out.

He blinked, breaking the spell, and went on with the illusion that consisted of several beautiful women moving around him.

His assistants, all legs and saccharine smiles, moved around him, and suddenly applause broke out all around her.

His gaze met hers again, holding it longer than it had the last time before flicking away again.

She blinked, wondering what he’d done to earn such applause.

Glad that she’d had the foresight to DVR it, she joined in the applause, mortified that she’d done so just as everyone stopped clapping.

Hurriedly settling her hands on her lap, she looked away, his voice drawing her attention back to the stage.

“And for my final illusion…”

Final illusion?

Shit!

The evening had flown by, and she still hadn’t figured out a way to get backstage.

The woman next to her leaned closer. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

Veronica smiled, her breath catching when he glanced in her direction again, his green eyes seeming to glitter and narrow as his gaze passed over her.

“He’s magnificent.”

Embarrassed that she’d said that out loud, Veronica shrugged.

“I mean he does put on a good show.”

The woman sighed. “I go to every show I can. I’m dying to meet him, but he’s got security out the wazoo. I can’t get within twenty feet of him. No matter how many times I’ve tried to get backstage to meet him, they thwart me.”

Veronica spun to stare at her, her heart sinking. “You’re kidding.”

Her plan to talk her way backstage went up in smoke.

The other woman sighed again, her features lighting up as she stared up at the stage. “Yeah, as soon as the show’s over, his bodyguards rush him out the back door and into his limo. He’s gone and on his way back to his hotel before you know it.”

Pursing her lips, Veronica nodded, her mind racing.

She didn’t know which hotel he would be staying in. If he left the building before she did, she’d lose him.

For all she knew, he could be on his way to the airport when he left.

She had to follow him, which meant she had to get to her car and find his limo before he could make his escape.

His voice, strong but with a sensuous cadence that rippled through her, came from the stage again, drawing her attention. “And now ladies and gentlemen, something that I saved for last because it’s very possible that I may not survive it.”

“God forbid.” Veronica tensed while he explained that he would be shackled inside a tank filled with water, the only way out locked with a padlock, which was on the outside of the tank.

“Don’t worry. Sinclair Majors can escape from anything.”

Hearing the tension in the other woman’s voice, Veronica glanced at her, not wanting to look away from the stage. “You don’t sound so convinced.”

“It’s just that he’s been performing more and more dangerous illusions. Now he’s retiring. This is probably his most dangerous one yet.”

Veronica stiffened, her heart in her throat as she watched his assistants putting him into a straight jacket. “He can get out of this. Right?”

“Let’s hope so.”

Knowing that she’d have to be outside as soon as the show ended, Veronica got to her feet and made her way down the aisle.

Unable to take her eyes from the stage, she walked backward toward the exit, her breath catching when the devastatingly sexy magician met her gaze again.

He saw her. There was no mistaking it.

He was looking right at her.

A hood was placed over his head, and the moment was gone and she could breathe again.

Her backward steps slowed, and she found herself breathing in gasps as they began to lower him into the tank by the chains attached to the belt around his waist.

She realized how ridiculous it was to worry.

He did this for a living and had for several years.

She was acting like a silly schoolgirl when she had a mission to accomplish.

She turned and rushed toward the exit, a collective gasp from the crowd stopping her in her tracks.

He was underwater.

Dear God.

They were locking the padlocks in place.

He struggled, frantically trying to get free, but his assistants seemed unconcerned.

What if something was wrong?

Why didn’t they pay attention to him?

His feet were still shackled securely to the bottom of the small tank, despite his struggles.

He had to be out of air.

He couldn’t breathe.

Dear God, he was dying.

“No!”

The excitement level rose, the panic cries from the audience drowning her out.

Her own panic had her running for the stage just as a man wearing a soaking wet hood appeared from a door to her left.

He moved swiftly down the aisle just as his assistants revealed that the tank was empty.

Whipping off his black hood, he revealed gleaming blond hair, and a confident smile that both relieved her and pissed her off.

Amid the applause and shouts of astonished relief, he turned, his smile falling as he looked directly at her.

Constant Craving

[Siren Everlasting Classic: Erotic Consensual BDSM Romance, public exhibition, sex toys, HEA]

Kelsey Richards kept the few men she’d allowed in her life at a distance. When her friend introduced her to Gabriel Durand, a man who liked to dominate women, she gave him a wide berth, not interested in any man she couldn’t control.

She couldn’t miss her only friend’s wedding, even if it meant she’d have to spend a week on Rapture Island, an island that catered to men like him.The reality of being there, and under Gabriel’s protection, proved more unsettling than she’d bargained for.

Kelsey was intrigued by Gabriel’s proposition, though. The idea of submitting to him in return for a week of pleasure was a lure she couldn’t resist. She didn’t want to hear his claim to want more. She didn’t believe it. She’d take the pleasure and walk away.

Sex with Gabriel, though, was nothing like she’d imagined, creating a bond she couldn’t fight.

He made her feel again.

He taught her to love.

Excerpt

Just minutes after the morning rush began to die down in the coffee shop she owned, Kelsey Richards felt it—a sizzle of electricity in the air—and looked up, straight into the eyes of Gabriel Durand.

Her heart leapt at the jolt to her system and the surge of awareness that made every erogenous zone in her body tingle.

“Good morning, Gabriel.” Her voice sounded huskier than usual, something that she noticed happened more often in his presence.

“Good morning, Kelsey.” The low intimacy in his tone never failed to fire her imagination, and it made her curious to know if his voice would have that same deep timbre in bed.

“The usual?” Straightening cups that didn’t need to be straightened, she looked up at him through her lashes, her pulse tripping at his slow smile.

“Can you join me?”

In an attempt to appear nonchalant, she shrugged as the two of them played the game they always played when he came in. “Sure, for a few minutes.”

She knew that if the shop had been busy, he would have sat at the table in the corner by the front window and waited until she could join him.

He seemed to have learned the rhythm of the shop, because he always appeared just when things started to slow down.

Nervous under his stare, she reached for a cup for a double espresso and almost knocked the entire stack over. “Why don’t you go sit down and I’ll be right there?”

The knowledge of her predicament gleamed in his eyes. With a faint smile, he inclined his head. “Of course

Watching him walk away, Kelsey admired the fine figure he made in his dark suit. She’d never seen him in anything else, and she couldn’t stop trying to imagine him in nothing at all.

“I don’t know how you can contain yourself. You try so hard to look calm and collected when he’s looking, but the second his back’s turned, you eat him alive with your eyes. Don’t you just want to take a bite out of him?”

Kelsey wanted to laugh out loud at Gina, the young woman she’d hired to manage her coffee shop, but managed to keep a straight face as she fixed coffee for Gabriel and herself. “The thought’s crossed my mind a time or two.”

Gina sighed. “I’m going to miss him when you sell this place to me. He’s better than a jolt of that espresso he loves.”

Kelsey glanced toward Gabriel, unsurprised to find him watching her. “I haven’t agreed to sell yet, and what makes you think he won’t come in here after I sell it to you?”

Gina snorted. “Please. He comes in here to ogle you and try to get in your pants. How you’ve resisted this long is beyond me. He started coming in, what, six months ago?” Smiling, she picked up a towel and wiped the already clean counter. “On the other hand, I might get back some of the customers he’s scared away—you know, the ones who stare at you and he glares at them until they leave?”

Kelsey’s face burned. “Shut up. Why I don’t fire you, I’ll never know.”

Gina giggled. “Because you love me. Now, stop dawdling and get out there. God, that man’s a walking orgasm.”

Avoiding Gabriel’s stare, Kelsey picked both cups up from the counter and made her way to the table where he sat, smiling at Len, who worked at cleaning up after the morning rush.

Setting Gabriel’s cup in front of him, she lowered herself to the seat across from him, wrapping both hands around her cup to hide the fact that they trembled.

She knew what he’d come today to talk about, and it excited her as much as it unnerved her. “So how are you today?”

Looking sexy, expensive and dangerous, Gabriel smiled and slid his gaze over her features. “I’m fine, thank you. And you?”

Kelsey tightened her fingers on the cup to relieve the itch to run them through his long, dark hair. “I’m fine.”

Gabriel laughed, a deep, rich sound that vibrated through her, stroking her skin as effectively as a caress. “You’re not fine. You’re nervous as hell about going to the island with me. I thought we’d gotten past that.” Sitting forward, he unwrapped one of her hands from around her cup and held it in his, running his thumb over her fingers. “I thought we were friends.”

Kelsey jolted at the electric current that raced up her arm. Her face burned as she tried, unsuccessfully, to pull her hand from his. “Okay, friend. Why don’t you tell me exactly what to expect.”

Gabriel studied her fingers. “Why haven’t you asked Julianna?”

Shaking her head, Kelsey grimaced. “I have. Several times. She just laughs.”

Still a little disconcerted that her best friend would be marrying two men in less than a week, Kelsey was even more shaken at the prospect of going to the island Julianna’s fiancés owned—an island that catered to Dominants and submissives.

Gabriel grinned, lifting her hand to kiss her fingers before releasing it, sending another wave of heat up her arm.

“The rules are that every woman that goes to the island has to be accompanied by a man who agrees to take responsibility for her. He has to make sure she follows the rules of the island and even arranges for the clothing she must wear while she’s there. Of course, we have to share a room.”

Excited to be going on her first real vacation, excited for her friend, and thrilled at the chance to spend time with Gabriel, Kelsey still felt a little uncomfortable at being his responsibility.

She took a sip of her coffee to ease her dry throat, staring at his hands and trying to stop imagining what they would feel like on her body. “I’m sorry about this. Of course, I’ll sleep on the sofa. I sure didn’t want you to be stuck with me. Had you planned to take someone else?”

Looking away, her face burning, Kelsey couldn’t imagine anything more embarrassing than having to share a room with Gabriel and one of his submissives.

Sitting back again, Gabriel raised a brow. “I’m going to the island with exactly who I want to be with. You. Scared?”

Fidgeting under his steady gaze, Kelsey sighed. “Terrified. Gabriel, you know that I’m not the kind of woman you’re looking for. We’re friends, right?”

Gabriel inclined his head. “Absolutely. For now. Have you arranged to take the entire week off?”

The thought of spending an entire week with Gabriel had given her several sleepless nights. Nodding, she smiled. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into that.”

Finishing his coffee, he set his cup aside. “You need it. You’ve been restless for several weeks now. I can’t believe you’ve never taken a vacation before.”

“Couldn’t afford it. Gabriel, about the clothing—”

He got to his feet and pushed his chair in. “Already taken care of and packed. Don’t make a big deal out of it, Kelsey.” Bracing a hand on the table, he bent low, his smile sending a rush of desire through her. “I enjoyed it. Immensely.”

 

Crescendo

Hired by Nick Morietti and Steve Vanguard to decorate their newest hotel, Julianna Lovette is determined to make a name for herself. Nick and Steve’s raw sexuality, though, draws her like a moth to a flame-irresistible, but potentially lethal. When she becomes their lover, she’s tossed into a world of passion she’s always searched for but thought she’d never find.

Dominate and strong, they take her in ways she’d never imagined and earn a submission from her she never thought she’d give. When passion comes at a price, she has to depend on them to keep her safe from an enemy from Steve’s past. An enemy who’s waited for years for a chance to get revenge. An enemy they believe she works for. She learns that trust comes at a steeper price–but offers the biggest rewards.

Excerpt

Julianna Lovette’s hands shook as she wiped the tears blurring her vision, knowing she smeared whatever mascara she had left all over her cheek.

Knowing she looked horrible would have been bad enough, but what made her feel even worse was that it didn’t matter what she looked like.

No one would see her. She was alone.

When she’d turned forty last week, she’d shared a bottle of wine with her best friend, Kelsey, and decided to find that elusive feeling she’d spent her life searching for. She’d made the decision to start dating again and find a man, the man who could overwhelm her with passion, one who was strong enough to take her to places she’d only dreamed about.

Someone who’d make her feel like a desirable woman.

She’d thought she’d found the answer, but tonight had proven to her, without a doubt, that she’d been mistaken.

Why had she ever thought a woman like her could do something like that?

In the dark confines of her old car, she reached for a tissue only to find that her purse had fallen to the floor and spent several frustrating minutes struggling to reach it, wincing as the seat belt dug into her.

A sob escaped before she could prevent it. And then another.

Giving up, she felt around on the adjoining seat for the napkins left over from the fast food place she’d stopped at earlier that day. She tossed a sweater she’d brought with her into the backseat, followed by a bottle of water and the magazine she hadn’t had a chance to read yet before finally finding one.

She wiped her eyes, wincing at the friction of the rough napkin on her skin. Crying never solved anything, and she’d stopped crying about things she couldn’t change years ago.

Tossing the napkin aside, she glanced in the mirror and gasped, horrified that the car in front of her had stopped at the traffic light and she hadn’t noticed.

She slammed on the brakes, her heart in her throat as she tried to stop in time to keep from plowing into it. Fishtailing on the wet asphaslt, she came to a stop only inches from his back bumper, inwardly wincing when she heard the contents of her purse scattering everywhere.

Drawing a shaky breath, she flexed her hands on the steering wheel, her knuckles sore from gripping it so hard. She closed her eyes, her heartbeat so loud in her ears it drowned out the sounds of her own ragged sobs.

Anger at herself churned, only to fizzle out under the blanket of self-pity.

She preferred the anger.

With a start, she realized that the car in front of her was no longer there.

Get a grip, Julianna.

Starting out again, she hit the gas too hard, hydroplaning until she got the car back under control. Taking another deep breath, she concentrated on going slowly, forcing herself to pay more attention to her driving.

Thankful that not too many people were out this time of night, she took another deep breath, forcing herself to go slowly, despite her rush to get home and end a night that seemed never ending.

How could she have been so unbelievably stupid?

Welcoming her rising fury, she impatiently brushed away another tear, slamming on her brakes when she saw that she’d almost missed the entrance to her apartment complex.

Tightening her hands on the steering wheel, she turned into the dimly lit parking lot, the squeal of her tires on the wet pavement a sharp reminder to slow down. Taking deep breaths, she drove across the small lot, holding on tightly to the steering wheel.

She winced at the ringing of her cell phone, knowing who it would be. She turned the corner, passing the rows of parked cars and headed toward her apartment, unable to tamp down the surge of guilt and embarrassment that made her ignore the persistent ringing. Only one person would be calling her at this time of night, and she couldn’t deal with talking to him right now.

Mortified after tonight’s debacle, she didn’t want to talk to anyone.

Damn Gabriel for putting the damned idea in her head in the first place!

Tears of mortification and failure flowed freely despite her determination to suppress them. She pulled into her parking space, cursing when her shoe got tangled in the worn mat, and she had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting the curb.

Of course, it sent the contents of her purse flying all over the floor again, the sounds of her things scattering even louder than the squeaky windshield wipers.

Fucking heels. Damn it, what kind of woman couldn’t even handle high heels?

A clumsy one who tried to be something she wasn’t.

Shaking, she fumbled with the gearshift, finally managing to put the car in park. Taking the keys from the ignition, she cursed again when they fell to the floor beneath her knees. Choking back more sobs, she fumbled around for them in the darkness, wondering what she’d ever done to deserve a day like this one. Closing her hand over them, she wanted to cry in relief but knew that once she started, she may never stop.

He’d been everything she’d thought she’d needed.

A hysterical sob broke free.

She’d been his worst nightmare.

And why the hell should that surprise her?

After a struggle to unfasten her stubborn seat belt, she bent to reach the floor on the passenger side. She felt around for as many items as she could find and haphazardly shoved them back into her purse. The tears she struggled to hold back stung her eyes again, becoming harder and harder to suppress.

She blew out a breath. “Hang on, Julianna. You’re almost there.”

Hell, now she was talking to herself.

Gathering her things, she opened the car door, cringing as it groaned in protest. One of these days she’d have a new car. Move to a better neighborhood. Only her career mattered.

Only her career fulfilled her.

Only her career was always there for her.

Her career never embarrassed her or promised things it couldn’t deliver.

Her legs trembled as she swung them out and stood, and it took considerable effort to slam the door closed, the rusty hinges creaking in protest.

Men. Fucking wimps. Who needed them? She swiped away another tear.

Stepping away from the car, she turned her key ring toward the light coming from the street lot, searching for her apartment key. Not looking where she walked, she twisted her ankle and stumbled, tripping on the curb and crying out as her hands and knees hit the sidewalk and her keys went skittering across the concrete and into the wet grass.

Great. Just great. Fucking high heels.

On any other woman they would be sexy, but not on her.

Why the hell had she thought they’d look sexy when she couldn’t even walk in the damned things?

“I told you she was drunk. Miss, are you all right? Let us help you.”

On her hands and knees, Julianna froze at the deep voice coming from directly behind her. Her tears dried up at the same instant panic set in, shoving its way through the anger and self-pity.

Only someone looking for trouble would be hanging out in the parking lot of her apartment complex at three in the morning, especially on a dreary night like this. Fearing for her life, she nearly cried in relief when she saw the small canister that had fallen out of her purse. Taking a deep breath, she gripped the pepper spray and started to rise, wincing when she scraped her knees. “I’m fine. Go away.”

Her voice hadn’t come out as firm as she would have liked, a shakiness to it she couldn’t quite contain.

The gravel dug into her hands and knees as she tried to scramble to her feet. She fell again, cursing under her breath when the heel on her right shoe broke. Knowing she’d have no chance of running in these damned shoes, she kicked them off, at the same time turning her body toward her building, judging the odds of getting inside before he could catch her.

Her long hair kept getting in her way, falling in damp strands around her face, and getting even wetter as the light rain continued to fall. Tonight she’d worn it down, something she very rarely did, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to pay dearly for it. Impatiently pushing it back, she kept her head bent, hoping that she had the pepper spray pointed in the right direction, and got into position to sprint.

“I don’t think she’s drunk. I think she’s hysterical.” This voice came from directly in front of her a second before two large, black, expensive-looking dress shoes entered her line of vision and stopped just inches from where her cell phone lay. A large hand reached out to pick it up at the same time another closed over her upper arms from behind, just as she tried to run.

“Let me help you up.”

Panicking because she couldn’t shake his hold, she struggled against the iron grip of the man behind her and screamed, kicking at him, but her bare feet apparently made no impact. “Let go of me, you asshole!”

He lifted her with alarming ease, pulling her back against a rock-hard chest. “Easy, sweetheart. We won’t hurt you. Are you all right?”

Julianna looked over her shoulder and up, into a face hidden in shadow. Alarmed at the size of him and the strength of his hold, she stopped struggling, hoping to get him to relax his grip. “I don’t have any money. Get the hell away from me.”

The other man bent to retrieve her belongings still scattered on the ground, dropping each item into her designer knock-off purse. The blond strands interspersed through his short brown hair gleamed in the harsh light from the lamppost behind him, but his features remained hidden in shadow. When he started to rise, he smiled, a flash of white that did nothing to reassure her. “We don’t want your money.”