Adara’s enigmatic and sexy boss asks her a simple question. “How are you going to celebrate your twenty-first birthday?” Sounds innocent enough, until he suggests she go to Ambrosia, the infamous BDSM club. To volunteer for scars and bruises is not on her to-do list. Yet when Julien invades her personal space, her body goes into panic mode and fails to respond appropriately. Since her adoptive parents died six years ago, she’s endured horrific tortures at the hands of her sadistic and perverted uncle and cousin.
Her long-awaited birthday, and inheritance, are days away. She longs for and plans to escape.
Julien Crofton is an ex-Special Forces private investigator. Since hiring Adara six months ago, her subtle signs of ongoing abuse have tied him in knots. And not the good kind. Time and again, he’s encouraged her to open up and talk to him. After disastrous results in a previous case where a client refused his help, he’s determined history won’t repeat itself. Surely he could help her and keep his heart intact. The fact she’s as beautiful as sin should have no bearing on his intent to teach her to not fear men. When he resorts to an underhanded tactic to crack her invisible suit of armor, he’s unprepared for the tidal wave of lust and protectiveness that swamps him.
Even while evading her family and an unknown psychopathic stalker, passion ignites. In progressive increments, Julien kindles her spark of infatuation into a raging inferno. Can Adara learn that perhaps not all men are evil and maybe…whips can be fun?
She hadn’t answered her cell all afternoon. With Julien’s attention divided between a staff meeting and this diffident client who ignored his advice, his frustration skyrocketed. He’d texted her several times and called her house. Each time, he received no answer. A homebody, her adventurous streak ranged between humdrum and non-existent. She should have been home.
He understood the type of man she’d married, weak-minded, controlling, and abusive, puppeteer to her marionette. From their first and only meeting, fear radiated from her very pores, exhaled in every breath. Purple, blue, and maroon hues splashed the western sky, the color of the bruises she failed to conceal when seeking his help. Soon, darkness would bleach all color from the sky, the same way death bleached the color from our bodies. He drove faster, the wheels drumming on the asphalt, chasing headlights forever out of reach, just like her reasoning for going back to her house of horrors.
The setting sun reminded him her husband would be off work soon, probably carry his rage home looking for a target. Lord, this brought back some of his own buried memories. No time for that now.
A combination of ignorance and nonchalance framed the bull’s eye she wore on her forehead. He’d advised her to leave home two days ago. They could handle legalities later but not if she lacked a pulse. Stubborn woman insisted on returning. Her late morning call today surprised him, finally ready to pack and leave. Failure to meet him at his office did not.
This woman needed help, even if she didn’t realize it. As a private investigator, he’d seen this scenario rehearsed many times. For reasons unknown, human nature’s broken record played out on the Mobius strip, fate having trapped him in the loop.
The steady slap and scrape of his windshield wipers whisked the few drops of rain from his windshield, evidence that heaven cried for its angels. He stomped the accelerator. His Mazda ate up the miles as he tried to focus his mind. The closer he got to her house, the more his mind screamed with recriminations…Too late. You should have come to her house this morning.
Stones skittered into the grass bordering her driveway as his car slid to a stop in front of her bungalow. The one with the front door ajar. Oh God, I am too late. Not again. He had little recollection of getting out of his car or running into her house. He knew in his gut, he’d failed. He’d promised her he’d help, and he failed. It didn’t matter that she’d ignored his advice.
In the middle of the living room floor, she lay face down, remnants of pain still etched in her expression. Naked, blood pooled under her abdomen in an ever-widening arc. Spatters of red adorned the surrounding wall cabinets, TV, and sofa. Her hair, burnt copper in the fading light streaming through the bay window, didn’t cover her wide staring eyes. His heart pounded in his chest, sweat beaded his forehead. With shaking fingers, he bent and touched her neck, a pulse, a weak one, fast and thready. She’ll never make it, his subconscious roared through his head as he snatched up his cell to dial nine one one.
The universe he bellowed his pain to felt colder than her body. The warmth of her soul flowed out, staining the carpet with wild abandon. He could smell the residue of gunpowder. The yapping of her ankle biter at his feet didn’t register in his mind until he saw its footprints surrounding the woman’s thin frame, written in her blood.