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Authors: Jennifer McNare

Unbroken

BOOK: Unbroken
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Unbroken

By Jennifer McNare

www.jennifermcnare.com

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as factual.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, businesses, or persons is completely coincidental.

 

 

 

Text Copyright © 2014

Jennifer McNare

All Rights Reserved

Prologue

 

California

She
stumbled and hit the ground hard, knocking the breath from her lungs in a painful whoosh.  She ignored the pain; she had no other choice.  Digging her fingers into the coarse dirt and little bits of leaves and twigs that littered the ground, she struggled up onto her knees. 
Get up, Britney!  Get up! 
The silent command echoed within her head, urging her on.
  Oh God,
she could hear him coming, hear the dull thud of his booted heels as he came up behind her.  Lurching to her feet she tried to run, but it was too late.  Feeling the tips of his fingers brush against her shoulder, she fell forward, back onto her knees, a strangled scream escaping from her throat. 

“Where
do you think you’re going, bitch?”  His harsh growl was a mixture of anger and contemptuous amusement. 

Britney
frantically scanned the area around her, looking for something, anything she could use to defend herself.  Her wild gaze landed upon a jagged rock where it lay nestled in the dirt just a few inches beyond her reach.  Once again she felt his fingers brush against her, this time grabbing at her upper arm.  Flinging herself forward onto her stomach she eluded his grasp, but an acute, stabbing pain tore through her left side as she landed.  It was only the adrenaline rushing through her body that kept her moving.  With a grunt of pain she reached forward, feeling a ridiculous sense of triumph as her fingers came in contact with the rock, its size slightly larger than her fist.  The feeling lasted only an instant however, as she felt his hand curl firmly around her left ankle a split second later. 

Her hand tightened
convulsively around the rock as he jerked her backward and then once again reached for her shoulder, seizing it this time and flipping her onto her back in one quick movement.  She gasped in agony as a searing pain exploded within her chest.  Her arm fell limply to her side, her makeshift weapon falling from her hand as a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over her and threatened to take her under.  In desperation she fought against the pull, struggling with all her might to stay alert.

“Do y
ou really think I’m gonna let you run away before we’ve had our fun?” he snarled, staring down at her with an evil sneer, just before his right hand slammed brutally against the side of her face like the blow of a sledge hammer.

She felt the bones in her
lower jaw snap and crunch, could taste the blood in her mouth as her teeth cut brutally into her lips.  With tremendous effort she managed to keep her eyes open as she struggled to focus.

“You think your little friend had it bad?
”  He snorted and his eyes took on a fanatical glint.  “Well now it’s your turn, and I got something extra special in store for you, sweet thing.”  His breath blew into her face, the lingering odor of coffee and the sickly sweet smell of black licorice assaulting her nostrils as his eyes raked her from head to toe, his expression a horrifying combination of malice and hedonistic excitement.  He backhanded her then, breaking her nose.

Britney fought
against the rapidly encroaching fog and the excruciating pain that threatened to overwhelm her ability to think and to act.  This was her only chance.  She knew that with absolute certainty.  If she didn’t get away right then and there, she was going to die, but she would suffer first; he would make sure of that.  She’d seen exactly what he was capable of, forced to watch as he’d brutally raped and tortured Molly time and again before he’d finally killed her. He was a monster.  As he reached down to grab her left arm she groped blindly for the fallen rock with her right hand.  Finding it, she clutched it tightly in her fist.  Bringing her arm up with as much power as she could muster, she slammed the jagged stone against the side of his head as he hovered over her.

Caught off balance
he reeled backward, swaying for an instant before falling onto his side next to her.  Grunting in pain, he clutched at the side of his head as he rolled onto his back. 

Ignoring the agonizing fire that ripped through her body,
she managed to turn onto her side, hefting the rock once again, propelled by her body’s last bit of adrenaline. 

Though dazed, he brought his other hand up
and tried to block the impending blow, but his defensive reaction came a second too late. 

She
smashed the rock against the exposed portion of his forehead and watched his eyes go wide, his arm falling motionlessly to his side as the sound of rock crunching against bone echoed in her ears.  His eyelids slowly drifted closed over his dark eyes and his head lolled to the side, his stringy brown hair, now tinged red with blood, falling haphazardly across his brow.

The
blood-stained rock slipped from her fingers, now numb from having gripped it so tightly.  She dropped onto her back then, gasping for breath, the pain in her chest nearly unbearable.  Closing her eyes she struggled against the growing wave of nausea, sucking a ragged breath into her lungs with difficulty.  But she didn’t have time to worry about her injuries, she had to get up, she had to run.  But where to?  Deeper into the woods?  Back to the cabin?  No, definitely not the cabin.  She couldn’t go back there.  She tried to think, tried to focus.  How long would he be out?  Despite her befuddled mind, she already knew the answer to that question; not nearly long enough.  “
Now it’s your turn,
” the menacing words reverberated within her aching head. 

She knew exactly what
would happen if he caught her.  And even with a head start she knew that he
would
catch her. The terrifying thought gave her the strength she needed, both mentally and physically.  Despite the sickening notion, she knew what she had to do if she wanted to survive.  Struggling up onto her knees, her long blonde hair falling in a tangled mass around her head, further hampering her blurred vision, she groped at her side for the discarded rock.

 

Chapter 1

 

Minnesota, Four Years Later

“You can’t be serious!” 
Britney Taylor gaped at her boss in horrified disbelief, her eyes wide behind the thick, tinted lenses that served to conceal the vivid blue of her eyes and the long, dark lashes that fringed them. 


Britney, you know how much this means to the organization.  How much it means to
me
,” he added, the silky timber of his voice cajoling.  “You know that I would never ask you to do this if it wasn’t so important.”


Ian-”

“Eight
weeks, Britney, that’s all I’m asking.”  His eyes were riveted on her face, his expression entreating. His cell phone, sitting atop his desk began to vibrate, but he ignored it. “As soon as he signs the contract you’ll be right back here where you belong.  I swear.” 

Eight
weeks
.  The way he said it made it sound like such a brief amount of time.  But to her it sounded like an eternity.  Sadly however, the fact that most women would willingly sell their souls for the opportunity to spend the next eight weeks with Jake McCoy wasn’t lost on her.  But she wasn’t like
most
women.  Maybe she used to be, but not now, not anymore.  Four years ago she would have been over the moon at the mere thought of spending time with one of the most gorgeous and sought-after men on the planet.  But now, now it only filled her with an agonizing sense of dread, and of course intensified the ever-present fear and anxiety that surrounded her, emotions that despite the passing of time never seemed to fade.  Though he didn’t know it, Ian was not just asking her for a favor, he was asking her to step outside of the safe cocoon that she had painstakingly created around herself.  As much as she wanted to help him, she didn’t think she could do it.

So what
was she to do then?  She could tell him about her past, she supposed; reveal her true identity.  He would understand then, why she couldn’t do what he was asking of her.  She closed her eyes and considered it for about a half a second.  No, she decided, for the thought of telling Ian who she really was, was almost as frightening as what he was asking her to do.  She couldn’t bear it, the combination of horror and pity that would surely be reflected in his eyes when he found out.  She had seen that look far too many times before.  Leaving her past behind her was the reason that she had legally changed her last name and moved from California to Minnesota.

No,
she wouldn’t do it.  She wasn’t Britney Ellison anymore.  And telling Ian about her past wasn’t an option.  It would change things between them.  It would change everything.  There had to be another way.  She looked at him in desperation, her thoughts racing as she tried to think of a plausible excuse to eschew what he was asking her to do.

As if sensing her
imminent refusal, Ian’s gaze turned beseeching, his tone pleading now.  “Britney, please, I’m begging you, do this for me.” 

No, no, no! 
Please, Ian, you don’t know what you’re asking me to do
, she silently bemoaned.  But even as the desperate entreaty echoed within her head she knew that she couldn’t deny his request, because Ian McNealy was not only her boss, he was also her friend.  And though he didn’t know it, in many ways he was her savior as well. How could she refuse to help him, now, when he needed her the most?  She glanced down at her hands.  Her fingers were clenched into tight fists on her lap, her short, unpainted fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her palms. 
Oh God, oh God, oh God!
 

With
tremendous effort she forced herself to relax, to steady her breathing and then to slowly unclench her fists.  Summoning every last ounce of courage she possessed, she hesitated for one endless moment and then finally answered. “Fine, I’ll do it,” she said, looking up and meeting his eyes.

Ian
heaved an audible sigh of relief and his face lit up with a wide grin.  “Thank you, Britney.  I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Although
Britney received the full brunt of Ian’s dazzling blue eyes and heart-stopping, lady-killer smile; that wasn’t what suddenly had her stomach tied in knots.  Aside from their professional relationship, they were friends, nothing more.  And even so, Ian’s good-looks had never really affected her like that.  It was what she had just agreed to that was on the verge of making her physically ill.  Ian had no idea how difficult this was going to be for her, no idea at all. And he wasn’t going to.  Despite the fact that her heart was beating like a bass drum within her chest, she carefully masked her feeling of terror and even managed a slight smile in return. 

Just then, the ph
one on Ian’s desk trilled softly, mercifully distracting her from her thoughts, if only for a moment.  She stood up and moved around his desk, reaching automatically to answer it.  “Ian McNealy’s office.”

Holding the phone to her ear,
she instantly recognized the voice of Ian’s current girlfriend, Irina Koslov, a leggy Victoria’s Secret model with a sultry European accent.  Standing at his side, she was close enough that Ian could hear the voice as well.  She nodded as he mouthed for her to tell Irina that he would call her back later.  He watched her then, as she spoke politely to the dark-haired beauty.  With her peripheral vision she could see his eyes sweep from her own blond hair, pulled severely back from her face and coiled into its customary, unbecoming knot at the back of her head, linger for a moment on her oversized glasses with the hideous frames, and then move to scrutinize the plain white blouse and shapeless, navy blue pantsuit she was wearing.

He
on the other hand wore an impeccably tailored, light-gray Italian suit with a blue silk tie that perfectly matched the color of his eyes, and his short black hair was professionally styled into an intentional state of disarray that complemented his handsome features to perfection. 

When
she hung up the phone, returning the receiver to its cradle a moment later, he abruptly ended his silent perusal.  She knew he often wondered why she dressed like a fifty-year-old librarian, but thankfully, aside from the occasional speculative appraisal like the one she’d just received, he kept his thoughts to himself.

As she settled back into her chair,
her gaze moved to the tall bookshelves that flanked Ian’s desk.  They were filled with a vast array of hockey memorabilia and intermingled with numerous family photos.  As they had many times before, her eyes moved to the photograph of Ian and his father standing in the Blade’s locker room, surrounded by players and coaches.  It was the last picture taken of Ian and his father together.  His parents had been killed three days later, when their small private plane had crashed during a snowstorm near Aspen, Colorado.  It had been a devastating loss for both Ian and the Blades organization. 

With the death of his parents,
Ian had inherited the bulk of his family’s wealth, including his father’s beloved sports franchise.  At twenty-six, he had become the youngest team owner in the NHL.  Though his father had made the bulk of his fortune from several successful business ventures after moving to the United States, he had been born and raised in Canada.  And like virtually every other Canadian male, his love of hockey had ranked right up there with his love of making money.  The Blades had been his father’s passion and he had shared that passion with his only son.  Now, at thirty, the Blades had become Ian’s passion as well.  Winning the Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl of the National Hockey League, had become his greatest desire and Britney knew that signing Jake was his best chance to make that dream a reality. 

Last year, du
ring a contract dispute with Jake’s former team, the Dallas Stars, Ian had been offered the opportunity to sign Jake McCoy, one of the most highly-acclaimed offensive players in the NHL, to a short-term contract in mid-season and he’d jumped at the chance.  Jake had helped take the team to the Stanley Cup finals, but thanks to a buzzer-beating goal at the end of the third period, they had unfortunately lost the cup to the New York Rangers in game seven.  Now Jake’s contract was up for renegotiation and as Ian had told her point blank, there was no way in hell he was going to lose his star player to another team.  He was determined that this was the Blades year to win the cup.

She, probably more than
anyone else, knew just how much it meant to him.  He wanted it for himself, but even more than that he wanted it for his father.  She couldn’t let him down.  She wouldn’t let him down.  But still, if she managed to make it through the entire eight weeks without falling to pieces, he was going to owe her big time for this.  “So, when do I start?”

“Jake wants to leave for his cabin on Saturday.”

“Saturday, as in two days from now?” she gasped.  She was about to protest, but then she realized what else he’d said.  “Wait, did you just say he wants to leave for his cabin?”


Uh huh. Apparently he likes to spend the off-season there.”

“So
what does that mean for me?  I’m going to have to drive back and forth to his cabin all summer?”  There were several upscale mountain communities within an hour’s drive of Minneapolis and it now sounded like she was going to be spending the majority of the summer commuting.  But that was only a small part of her concern.  The word
cabin
had sent an involuntary chill down her spine.

“Well
no, not exactly,” Ian replied somewhat hesitantly.

Her eyes narrowed. 
“What do you mean, not exactly?”

“His cabin i
s in Idaho, somewhere up around Sun Valley I think.”

Oh no, no, no, no
!
  For a minute, she forgot to breathe. 

Ian
immediately put his hands up in a don’t panic gesture, clearly attributing her horrified expression to something else entirely.  “Don’t worry, Britney; it’s not like a
cabin
, cabin.  It’s a resort community.  Just envision a multi-million dollar house with rustic décor.  I’m sure you’ll love it.  Hell, it will probably feel more like a vacation than work,” he said, his tone upbeat now.

She felt the blood rushing to her head. 
If only that were the problem!
 

Rising from his chair,
Ian walked swiftly around the desk to Britney’s side.  “Seriously, Britney, I can’t thank you enough for doing this.  You’re an absolute lifesaver.”  Grasping her elbow, he pulled her to her feet. 


Ian, wait, I…”

“I know, I know, sorry for the short notice.  Take the rest of the day off.  I can handle things here while you go home and pack.”  Without giving her a chance to respond, he
tugged gently upon her elbow and pulled her toward the door of his office, reaching for his wallet as they walked.  “Here, take this” he said, handing her a stack of bills.  “In case you need to buy some luggage, or something.” 

“Ian-”

“Let Grace know she’ll be filling in for you while you’re gone, will you?  We can go over the rest of the details tomorrow.”  He closed her fingers firmly around the money as he continued to prod her toward the door, almost as though he realized that she was about to tell him that she’d changed her mind and couldn’t do it after all.  “And seriously, thanks again, Britney.  I owe you one.”

Before she knew it, she was standing on the other side of
Ian’s closed door, a wad of bills crumpled in her hand. 
This couldn’t be happening
,
could it?
  In a state of shock, she made her way to her desk and sat down heavily in her chair.  She stared blankly at her computer screen for several minutes and then finally forced her fingers to the keyboard. After typing a brief email to Grace, she hit the send button, logged off and then grabbed her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk.  Oblivious to the other employees milling about the Blades corporate headquarters, she walked to the elevator and pressed the down arrow, her thoughts spinning in turmoil.

 

 

Approximately twenty minutes after she’d left the office, Britney waved
to the security guard on duty as she pulled into the parking garage of the high-security building that housed her one-bedroom condo.  Parking her white SUV in her designated space, she carefully scanned the surrounding area before turning off the engine.  Then, grabbing her briefcase, she stepped from the vehicle and quickly made her way to the nearby elevator.

A few m
inutes later she was safely behind the closed door of her condo, the unit located on the eighth floor of one of Minneapolis’ most sought-after high-rises.  The condominiums in the building ranged from a few smaller one-bedroom units like hers, to the lavish and expansive units that occupied the top floors.  The price of her eleven-hundred square foot unit had been exorbitant, but worth every penny.  It was the one place she truly felt safe.

With the door securely locked
and bolted behind her, she moved through the small foyer and into the living room.  The room was awash in sunlight, lit by a large bank of windows along the opposite wall.  Making her way toward the small writing desk that sat in the corner of the room, Britney glanced at the answering machine, noting the zero on the digital display.  No messages, surprise, surprise.  She had little family, and aside from Tyler, her best-friend since childhood, the majority of her friends had long since given up trying to keep in touch.

BOOK: Unbroken
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