Authors: Jamie K. Schmidt
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2014 by Jamie K. Schmidt
by Jamie K. Schmidt copyright © 2014 by Jamie K. Schmidt
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54976-1
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Jamie K. Schmidt. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover photo: © Geber86/Getty Images
After two months of running, Mallory Bryant gave up. She was sick of vending machine food and waking up in terror every night wondering if the LSD-laced Ecstasy tab David shoved down her throat had done permanent damage.
She was sick of crying during
. Sick of staring out the window, afraid that David was going to find her. And Mallory was terrified that when he did, this time he would not stop until she was as strung out as he was. But most of all, her mother had slapped down the ultimatum: Go to your sister or come back home to Nevada. The fact that her mother would even consider Colleen a viable source of responsibility showed how worried she really was.
“David is concerned. You should talk to him. Make up your silly fight. Don’t make me come up there and hunt you down,” she said, not knowing that David was the reason why she ran away. The bruises faded after a few weeks—at least the ones on the outside.
She was sick of being his victim.
There was no way in hell she was getting on a plane to Nevada. Not only did David know where her parents lived, they probably would invite him down for a reunion. Every time Mallory tried to tell her mother about that awful night, she couldn’t find the words. She’d been lying to everyone for so long, saying how wonderful her life was, that Mallory couldn’t backtrack.
“David is a drug addict.”
Mallory practiced saying it aloud in the hotel room but flinched at the accusation behind those words.
“David is addicted to drugs.”
That sounded more sanitized. Less raw. She could hide the emotion behind that.
“He beat me.”
Mallory’s voice shook.
“He hit me.” She tried to sound casual, but the fear tremored on the surface.
“David has anger management issues. We’ve had problems. We’re taking a break from each other.”
Those all sounded better. They sounded like she was in control. If she was in control, she could go to Colleen. It wasn’t as if she had much choice. Mallory was broke. Her credit cards were maxed. Her job probably wrote her off a month ago. She didn’t dare call to check. She was afraid of what story David had told to explain her absence.
As she repacked her meager belongings into the battered duffel bag, Mallory wished she had taken the time to pack when she left home. But when she woke up after the hallucinations
and the nightmares, she’d panicked. David had been passed out and she wanted out of there before he regained consciousness.
“Let me introduce you to my friend,
,” he’d said, pouncing on her as she came in from working a double shift.
Exhausted, she wasted precious escape time just looking at him in confusion. Did they have company? Who was Molly and what was she doing in their apartment at six in the morning? Then he kissed her. And for a moment, her heart lightened. They had been fighting for so long about everything: his hours working on court cases; her hours in the emergency room; his drug use; her nagging; his slapping her when she said she wasn’t happy and wanted to leave; his begging her to stay with the promise to get himself together. When he held her tight against him, she almost forgave him. It had been so nice to be hugged after a long shift.
Then his tongue pushed the fizzy tab into her mouth and fought to keep it there.
Stupid Mallory—you’re a doctor, for chrissakes
David had shoved an Ecstasy tab into her mouth. She fought him, but he was stronger. He slammed her into the wall when she tried to kick at him. Mallory cut her lip on his teeth trying to get away. It hadn’t taken long for the pill to dissolve.
“You asshole!” she raged and tried to get to the bathroom to throw it up. Mallory fought him tooth and nail. He tossed her around the room, tackling her to keep her with him.
“You need the energy. You’re dead tired. We never go out and do anything. Kids do this all the time. Let’s go to a rave! I feel ten years younger. I feel like I could fly.”
But it wasn’t just MDMA in the tab. She could have told him that when you’re dealing with an illegal substance, the quality control isn’t there. The tabs he bought had been cut with some hallucinogen. David started dancing around their living room, slapping at the bugs he thought were crawling all over him.
Mallory knew what was happening. She tried to hold on to the logical part of her brain that whispered, “This isn’t real.” But in the end, she hid under the bed to get away from the demon that was chasing her with a butcher knife and slashing the bedsheets and curtains to ribbons of blood.
So yeah, the next morning, making sure she had seven pairs of clean underwear wasn’t high on her list. She wanted out before David woke up. For the next few weeks, Mallory went from motel to motel, at first only staying overnight before running to the next one. Then she stayed a week at a time, trying to figure out just what the heck she was going to do. She cried a lot, screamed into the pillow, and threw tantrums that would put a toddler to shame. She watched daytime television to the point where she learned more about DNA paternity tests than she had in eight years of college and med school. Two months was a long time to feel sorry for yourself.
Mallory was ready to try and get her life back, even if that meant running to Colleen.
Max Spencer was observing the married couple as they practiced their newly taught skills. The wife was tied up in Max’s best Kinbaku rig and he admired how the white rope accentuated the swell of the woman’s breasts and the curves of her hips and legs. She hung from a harness on the ceiling and her husband rotated her, striking a blow with a thin cane on a juicy piece of exposed flesh. Max’s eyes narrowed, but the cut didn’t draw blood. The husband was being careful.
Clint entered the room silently so as to not disturb the scene. “Colleen needs you,” he whispered. “I’ll take over here.”
Max nodded and with a last reluctant look at the pretty wife, went to see what his boss wanted. Her office was on the vanilla side of Couture, hiding the secret members-only playground she was fronting using a fashion haven for the rich and useless. He made sure to close the door so it was seamless with the wall, just in case some of the giggling models and tortured artists stumbled into the wrong hallway.
Colleen’s administrative assistant wasn’t at her desk, so he walked through her office and knocked on the boss’s double doors.
Max liked her office. It was full of sexual and beautiful things. None were as beautiful as the woman who signed his paychecks, though. Blond, stacked, and richer than Croesus, Colleen oozed a predatory sexuality that most men found intimidating. Max didn’t have the inclination to be a notch in her Prada belt, but he still liked to look. She had the phone to her ear and rolled her eyes at him.
“Sit down.” She motioned to the seat across from her desk with a jab of her pen.
He could hear she was getting an earful on the other end.
“I will take care of it,” she said. “There’s no need for you to come out here. If you called me sooner I could have stepped in. No, I’m not blaming you. Of course I’ll call you when she gets here. Goodbye.”
“That sounded pleasant,” Max said.
“You have family?”
Max wasn’t sure how that fit into the conversation, but he didn’t have a problem answering. “I got a brother down in Texas and a sister in California.” He didn’t mention his dad in the convalescent home. He didn’t talk about him with anyone.
“You’re spread out all over the place. Do you get to see each other often?”
He shook his head. “Christmas or Thanksgiving. Why?”
Colleen rubbed her temple. “My sister is coming to visit.”
“Oh. Why, what’s up?”
“I don’t know. She left an incoherent message on my voice mail early this morning and when I called my mother—which was a big mistake—I found out that she’s been AWOL for two months.”
“She’s in the army?”
“Not exactly. She’s an ER doctor. Or was until she vanished without a trace. I’d call her fiancé, but he’s about as useless as tits on a bull and is probably behind this whole mess.”
“No offense, boss, but what’s this got to do with me?” Max crossed his legs. He was a martial arts trainer on the fashion side and a Dom on the members-only side. He definitely didn’t want to get involved in a family matter.
“I think Mallory is running scared. I need you to be her bodyguard while she’s staying here.”
“What about …”
“Clint is going to take over your classes.”
“He has his own to do.” Besides, if Max wanted to get his own secret project up and running, he was going to need the cash flow the grateful patrons tipped him. The convalescent home was draining him several thousand dollars a month. It was a good thing his job at Couture included room and board or he’d be in serious trouble. As it was, the bills were racking up.