“You’re amazing, Dr. Cavanaugh.”
I wasn’t going to correct a woman in tears, her husband doing everything he could to console her. Two more weeks then I could officially add Doctor of Veterinary Science. Until then, I was a supervised intern. I couldn’t wait, the years spent in college the best of my life. However, I was ready to move on. Caring for animals was all I’d ever wanted to do. “Remember, one pill every morning with food.”
“Absolutely,” the husband told me.
Leaning down, I kissed Buddy on the muzzle, taking a deep breath of his scent before heading into the backroom. As I slunk against the wall, the owner of the clinic pressed her hand on my arm. “You did great, Willow. You are a natural, just like I told you the first day you applied for a job as a tech.”
“Thank you, Dr. Abbot.” I offered a weary smile. I’d spent the last twenty-four hours with Buddy, making certain he had enough fluids, trying to convince the ninety-pound dog to eat something. Anything. Lyme disease was a bitch.
“For the love of God, call me Melissa. After all these years, I consider you a friend. Go take a break. Please. I don’t want to be turned into the authorities for abusing my employees.” Her laugh forced a wider smile.
She was right. I was exhausted. Maybe a cup of coffee the size of a canteen would help. I still had four hours to go. “I think I’ll do that.” I grabbed my purse, heading toward the back door. Thank God there was a Starbucks within walking distance.
As soon as I walked out, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. Great. A storm was approaching, and I hadn’t thought about bringing an umbrella with me. God, I hated storms.
I headed toward the coffee shop, squinting as I glanced up at the sky. Even with the ominous clouds, the horizon was bright from the flashes of electric color. As soon as I crossed the street, the rain started to fall. Half laughing, I raced on until the screech of tires drew my attention. I turned sharply, realizing a large SUV was careening in my direction.
My reactions were quick, slamming against the brick exterior of the building in an effort to avoid the oncoming out of control vehicle.
When it jerked to a stop, one tire jumping the curb, everything shifted into slow motion. Three men jumped from the SUV, heading in my direction. The second I let off a scream, a massive hand was smacked across my mouth, my body jerked forward.
Then I felt a prick. No. No. What was happening? I struggled, doing everything I could to cause a commotion, but it was…
Colombia, South America
When the hulking soldier turned around, I threw a hard punch, knocking him to the ground. Then I yanked my weapon into my hand, popping off a single shot, the silencer muffling any noise.
That felt good after the week I’d spent in hell. I was in a surly mood and wanted to take it out on someone.
When I heard a rustle, I reacted, lunging toward it instead of lifting my weapon. The two assholes attempting to jump me had no clue that I fed off violence, enjoying the cracking sound as I kicked one in the jaw, turning around immediately and throwing two hard punches, likely breaking the guy’s teeth. So what? After I was finished, he’d likely be slithering his way to dinner. Fucking snake.
I fired off four rounds then forced myself to head deeper into the bank of trees. So far, I’d taken out ten of the bastards. That was just the beginning. From here on out, I’d go by the book as I headed to rescue the mark.
Threat assessment Redline. No additional information. Hunt and acquire at will.
Hunt and acquire. It was a code for locate the mark, doing everything it took to bring her to safety. The text also meant there was no backup. I’d gone into missions alone only twice in my life, both successful but not without a significant loss of life. Fortunately, the people I’d been assigned to locate had remained alive, but I wasn’t certain that was possible in this case. After all, I was entirely on my own, not a single soldier assigned under my detail.
That was the way of Eagle Force, a clandestine organization of the government, the division completely off the grid. I’d signed up of my own volition, but not until after being tracked down like some criminal, forced into arduous meetings with people I couldn’t give a shit about any longer. I would consider myself a mercenary, only my mission was to protect at all costs.
At least that fueled my bloodlust.
I shifted through the jungle, listening for any sounds of additional enemy activity. I’d been in the sector for three days, laying out a course of action while assessing the threat level. I’d have one shot at accomplishing the necessary acquisition. That was, if I didn’t get myself killed in the process. I was highly skilled, the best marksman in the business, several medals of honor providing an indication to the rest of the world about my qualifications, even if they’d come at a significant price. I also had been called crazy more than once. Maybe that’s why I’d been targeted for the job.
Medals meant nothing to me. It was the thrill of the chase, exacting the ultimate revenge. Today would either spell victory or total demise, but I was up for the challenge.
I was smack in the middle of territory owned by a man called the King. Deangelo Castillo considered himself a highly respected businessman who’d parlayed his acute sense of business acumen into a powerful, wealthy kingdom. The truth was entirely different. He was nothing more than a brutal dictator, using violence and torture as his preferred method of influencing people, including dozens of moguls and politicians inside the United States. His empire consisted of various Fortune 100 companies, movie studios, and pharmaceutical companies.
According to many, he was untouchable.
A snicker formed in my throat at the thought. No man was without a weakness, a dark proclivity that would ultimately spiral him straight into hell. With a little help from a bastard like me. What a shame today wasn’t the day I’d send him to his maker, at least unless he fucked with me.
I knew every inch of the compound, including where the mark was imprisoned. I’d found it curious that other than a locked door and window, the young woman had been provided with more luxury than I’d seen in a decade. Given Deangelo’s reputation, that concerned me more than if she’d been chained to a wall.
He had plans on using her for his most profitable business—human trafficking. He proffered, conditioned, and sold women from around the world to other powerful, brutal men. I’d faced dozens of enemies, some little more than animals in their treatment of prisoners of war, women and children, but there was nothing worse in my mind than someone engaging in such an offensive act.
If I could cut the man apart limb by limb, taking days doing so, that would make me happy. Perhaps one day I’d return. I gazed at my watch before scanning the area. The guards were making their rounds exactly as predetermined. There was never a variation in their actions. I had three minutes and forty-two seconds in which to acquire the mark, dragging her to safety.
From there, I’d calculated it would take two hours to make it to the safe zone where a helicopter would be waiting. I’d estimated the odds of success for both phases. All I had to say was thank God I wasn’t a betting man. I moved to the outer perimeter, my night vision goggles allowing me to see every tree, every branch, and the night creatures shifting through the dense foliage.
As I shifted along the wall, my eyes continuously scanning the area, I took several deep breaths. Then I moved under the balcony to her room. Within seconds, I’d climbed over the iron railing, instantly disarming the security on the door. The room was dark except for a glow coming from the corner. What I didn’t see troubled the fuck out of me.
Where the hell was the mark? It was three fucking o’clock in the morning. She was locked in at precisely nine like clockwork. I didn’t want to think about what she’d endured during the week since she’d been taken. Fuck. The attempt at her rescue wouldn’t be possible twice. Huffing, I followed through with my mission, able to unlock the door in less than ten seconds. Then I moved inside, never making a single sound.
The light was coming from the bathroom. I shifted closer, hissing given the moment of surprise wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
I’d studied the woman I’d been sent to acquire for several hours. I knew everything about her from her favorite color to the names of her few friends. At this point, a single scream and the shit would hit the fan.
Willow Cavanaugh stood in front of the small mirror, her knuckles white from the force used to clamp her hands around the edge of the bathroom sink. She was staring at herself, the reflection of her face shimmering in the bank of lights. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, the photograph not doing her enough justice, but her eyes troubled me.
They were blank receptacles, as if her soul had been ripped out, torn apart by the torture she’d gone through. While I didn’t detect any immediate injuries, there were methods of torment that would never be seen by the naked eye. I knew them well. I’d inflicted and been party to them several times.
To my benefit, the girl was fully dressed except for shoes, a tactic used in order to keep a prisoner from running. Her long, dark hair was tied in a ponytail with a piece of string, tendrils cascading against her porcelain skin. Sadly, the dress she was wearing provided limited coverage from the insects that would enjoy feasting on her tender flesh. Her state of attire was troublesome, but not nearly as much as the fact I was attracted to her, which wasn’t allowed. My cock was throbbing, pressing painfully against my cargo pants. The last thing I needed was to find her desirable. I had to focus, and I was already losing time.
The moment I started to walk into the small space, I noticed two things, the first being a corner of the mirror was broken. Then my gaze was drawn to the items placed on the lid to the commode. A portion of the piece of glass had been wrapped in fabric, obviously intended for use as a weapon. There were other items including a thick piece of wood, some string, and what appeared to be a rock.
The woman had planned on attempting to escape.
I’d give her credit for ingenuity, but she had no idea about the elements of danger she’d face, including the booby traps located all throughout the property. With the wrong step, she could fall into a pit of snakes, or one filled with sharp spears.
The clock was ticking.
I stepped inside quickly, immediately slapping my hand around her mouth. The action startled her, and she started to struggle, shocking me with her agility and strength. When she managed to bite my finger in the process, I knew I had my hands full.
I lowered my head as I yanked her close to my chest, whispering harsh words, placing one hand around her throat. “You need to listen to me, Willow. I’m from the United States government. I’m here to bring you to safety but you must remain quiet and do exactly as I say. Can you do that?”
“Bullshit,” she mumbled around my hand.
“Not bullshit. The truth. You need to be compliant.”
Her dark eyes were luminescent, open wide as she glared at me in the mirror, but she nodded only once.
“If you scream or make a single sound, soldiers will arrive within seconds and there won’t be a second chance to save your life. I’m going to remove my hand. Then you’re coming with me.” I slowly pulled my hand away, keeping it close in case she disobeyed my order.
She gasped for air, swallowing several times. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Viper. That’s all you need to know. We can’t waste any time.” I grabbed her arm, yanking her into the bedroom and toward the door. When she tried to pull away once, I snarled and dragged her close for a second time, lowering my head, my anger increasing. “You’re wasting valuable time. I will explain everything later.”
“You damn well better.”
“I’m climbing over the railing first. Then you’ll do the same.”
“Fine.” Her hiss meant she was very much aware of her surroundings.
At least her spunk would prove to be helpful with the harsh conditions we’d face. After moving outside and scanning the area, I was forced to slide my weapon into the holster in order to climb over the railing. I was barely on the ground when she climbed over, dropping without needing my help.
While there was almost a full moon, which allowed me to see a shadow of her face, the light was also dangerous at this point. As soon as we were at least a hundred yards into the jungle, the thick canopy of trees would eliminate the extra danger, but we had to get there first. I’d memorized every step I had to take, the intel provided by the director in charge of the program providing details and blueprints of the estate and grounds, noting the majority of booby traps, but there was always room for error.
I’d prepared myself for a woman who’d cry and scream, terrified of her surroundings. She defied the odds, keeping pace with me as I headed into the dense foliage. I heard nothing from her, not a single sound except for her labored breathing. We made it to a point I felt comfortable turning on my flashlight.
As we continued, the terrain became more treacherous. Finally, a yelp of pain forced me to stop moving. She’d tumbled over fallen debris, her body shaking as she tried to regain her footing. One of her hands was badly scraped, trickles of blood oozing from the wound. The scent alone was enough to draw additional predators, which would force me to use my weapon. Silencer or no silencer, I didn’t want to take the chance of being heard.
“Stay right there,” I huffed, taking a few seconds to yank my shirt from my pants, ripping a section away. “Wrap the wound.”
“Where the hell are we going?” she barked as she grabbed the scrap from my hand.
“We have two miles to go.”
She half laughed, taking several gasping breaths as she wound the cloth around her hand, wincing from the pain. “We’ll never get out of here alive.”
“You don’t know me, Willow, or what I’m capable of. Let one of the fuckers try and stop us. Come. We have limited time.”
Her laugh continued but she forged on, stumbling every few seconds. We’d gone well over a mile, but that meant shit until we were safely inside the helicopter. The damn pilot better be there. He was the one person I’d hired to get us the fucking hell out this shithole. Once inside, he’d be instructed to take us to a facility I’d already determined, dropping us off. From there, I would personally handle the transportation.
With every step we took, a sickening premonition festered, increasing in intensity. I had a sick feeling we were surrounded. As we approached a pile of debris that was obviously created as a deterrent, blocking the minimal path, I snarled then threw out my arm holding the flashlight. “Hold this.”
She didn’t respond at first, finally jerking it from my hand. “This is crazy.”
When I yanked out one of the two knives I’d brought with me, glancing over my shoulder, once again her eyes opened wide. “This is normal.” I slashed at the debris, cutting through the vines with ease, the action necessary. On either side were two booby traps, the pits deep and deadly.
When I heard movement behind me, the source of light shifting, I jerked around, barely managing to yank her back. Two additional steps and she’d have fallen into one of them, answering the question as to what creatures were waiting in the darkness. “Be careful, sweetheart. Don’t stray too far. The jungle will kill you.”
She dropped the flashlight, her body shaking. “I can’t do this. I just can’t. And I’m not your sweetheart.”
“Well, you have no other choice if you want to live. Do you hear me?” When she didn’t respond, I shook her.
“Come on. We’re running out of time.”
Her body shaking violently, she scooped up the light, inching closer to me as I finished cutting us a path, pushing back the rest. “After you,” I told her.
She shook her head as if she was going to refuse before lunging through. I trailed behind her, shoving the debris back into position. Then her scream cut through the night. Instantly shifting into the soldier I’d been trained to be, I tugged her backwards, holding and shifting her arm to highlight whatever had terrified her.
The jaguar shocked the hell out of me. They were as terrified of humans as we were of them, although I’d come to admire their predatory actions, appreciating their intense beauty and sense of protection. The unusual behavior meant there were likely cubs somewhere near, the beast only protecting her own. While I’d normally do everything in my power to avoid terminating such a beautiful creature, I had no other choice if I wanted to get Willow to safety.
I threw the knife, the blade wedging in the jaguar’s throat. What I wasn’t expecting was the anger Willow presented, immediately lunging toward the big cat as if she planned on attempting to save the beast’s life.
I wrapped my hand around her ponytail, snapping my wrist then placing my arm around her neck to keep her quiet and eliminating her ability to move. “Not a good idea, Willow. That creature could tear you apart in seconds.”
“You killed it. You bastard. You’re a disgusting savage.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m a fucking savage, Willow, a goddamn monster. That’s something you need to remember. It was you or the beast, sweetheart. Which would you have preferred?”
“You’re a fucking asshole as well. That’s what you are.”
I laughed in her ear. “Absolutely. It’s best if you remember that too. I’m not here for a popularity contest. I’m the only hope you have of remaining alive.” Her scent was far too intoxicating, filtering into my system within seconds. Another wave of burning desire shifted through me, my balls tightening. “Your yelp was a beacon. Now, get moving.” I pushed her forward, yanking my knife free before following her. I had a feeling this would become a problem very quickly.
Only two hundred yards later and I heard a sound. Then I ripped the weapon from my holster, pushing her to the ground. “Stay down, sweetheart. This is just about to get hairy.”
Pop! Pop! Pop!
“Stay down, sweetheart. This is just about to get hairy,” Viper snarled.
His gruff words as he pushed me to the ground filtered in my ears.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
I bit back a scream, scrambling backwards, the realization soldiers were coming from behind adding to the terror. I’d almost been eaten by a jaguar, bitten by two snakes and God knows how many spiders and other creatures I’d heard crawling through the horrible jungle. Gasping, I hunkered down, fighting the fear as Viper fired several shots, finally tumbling to the ground and rolling, taking me with him. The flashlight was ripped from my hand, smashing against the ground, pitching us into darkness.
After throwing himself over me, Viper kept firing. The sound of hard thuds and groans seemed to be coming from everywhere. Who the hell was this man? I continued shivering, trying to catch my breath as the bullets continued to fly. I’d yet to figure out why I’d been taken from everything I loved, my world turned upside down.
I was a good girl, about to graduate from veterinary school, several jobs already waiting for me. I’d always followed all the rules, never stepping outside my bounds. Well, with few exceptions. My entire life had been ahead of me until a dark, stormy afternoon when everything had changed.
“Do not move, sweetheart. Not a single inch. I’ll be right back,” Viper commanded.
When the weight of his body was lifted, I said a silent prayer, praying my savior would return. Savior. Maybe I’d taken the word too lightly.
Additional gunfire pushed a moan from my throat. The darkness was overwhelming, the sensation that insects were crawling all over me shoved into parts of my brain. I shifted backwards, hitting a tree. As I pulled my knees against my chest, I rocked back and forth. Dear God. Why had this happened to me?
It was obvious that my captivity had shifted my mind into a place where all rationality had ceased. Why the hell had I gone with this man, a mystery invader in the middle of the night? So what if he’d identified himself as being sent by the US? That meant shit right now. I’d been told so many terrible lies since I’d been captured that my mind was spinning.
Maybe Viper, or whatever his real name was, could be the only way I’d have a chance of escaping. The fact he’d appeared in the bathroom only moments before I’d planned on attempting escape myself was far too… convenient. Coincidental? I didn’t buy that for a second. The man who’d called himself the King enjoyed playing games, treating me like a queen one minute then a child the next, keeping me locked away for days at a time, only bread and water as any kind of substance.
I was sick inside, my heart thudding, my head aching to the point it was throbbing. The moment I’d seen Viper’s face in the mirror, I’d been paralyzed. The crazy thing about his sudden appearance was that I’d been instantly drawn to him, my body reacting as if the man was a long-lost lover, not some crazed maniac sent to kill me or worse. I couldn’t understand why a burst of yearning had flowed through me like a rush of adrenaline, inflamed and in need.
Even his musky scent was enough to keep my senses tingling. It was likely I was dehydrated and the lack of sleep had finally shifted me close to a state of delirium. That was the only reason I’d find the bastard attractive.
Other than his dark eyes the color of rich, deep chocolate.
Or his curly midnight black hair framing a strong jaw and high cheekbones.
Or his muscular physique, the tattoo on his arm a clear indication the man was dangerous.
What was wrong with me?
Suddenly, the only sounds I heard were chirps and rustles coming from creatures. I lifted my head, daring to believe I’d make it out of the jungle alive.
Within seconds, I felt rough hands on my skin. Unable to keep from whimpering audibly, the moment fingers were pressed against my lips, I sucked in my breath, my natural instinct to get away taking over. I fought him, struggling with everything I had. He was too strong for me, managing to grab my wrists and pull me against him. “Leave me alone. Please. Just…”
“We’re okay, sweetheart. I’ve got you. You’re safe for now. Just keep your voice down. Okay?”
Viper’s voice was soothing, his tone rich and dark, evoking another wave of filthy thoughts in my mind. I clung to him, unable to say anything as he gathered me into his arms, pulling me to a standing position. “Don’t call me sweetheart,” I muttered, although I wasn’t certain why.
He laughed then encouraged me forward, wrapping his arm around my waist. My leg ached, although I wasn’t certain why. As I struggled to keep walking, every step I took initiated a sharp, agonizing moan.
“You’re going to need to trust me, Willow. We’re close to getting the hell out of here,” he said so calmly I was surprised. He’d just killed several men and he acted as if it was no big deal.
“Why is this happening?” All I’d done was try to figure out why me. Maybe I was just feeling sorry for myself. Nothing seemed real any longer, including the hulking mass of a man who’d rescued me. Could I trust him? I had no idea, but the alternatives were even more terrifying.
“I wish I had more answers for you.”
Exhaustion ripped through me, my calves spasming, I would have stumbled if he didn’t have his arm around me. “I don’t know if I can make it.”
“Yeah, you can, and you will. The other choices aren’t appetizing.” Without any hesitation, he lifted me from my feet, tossing me over his shoulder. Another light popped on, although dimmer than the one from before. As I was carried like a sack of potatoes, all I could think about was how my life had gone wrong.
Yet there were no answers I could think of.
I had no idea how long he carried me through the jungle, his long strides all I could concentrate on. When he finally reached a clearing, he eased me to my feet, gripping both arms. There was a thin light breaching the horizon, enough to allow me to see his face in silhouette.
The hard beating of my heart echoed in my ears, my ragged breathing leaving me panting. When he brushed his thumb across my cheek, the movement was so unexpected, I stiffened.
“You’re okay. Less than a quarter of a mile to go. Do you think you can walk from here?” he asked. I was surprised at the sudden change in his tone, softer and almost as if he gave a damn.
“Good.” He kept his arm wrapped around my waist, guiding me through the trees until we reached another clearing. As the early morning sun lit up a small clearing, I was shocked to see a helicopter only two hundred or so yards away.
“What’s happening?” I asked, uncertain I wanted to know the answer.
“I’m getting you out of here.”
A strange feeling of fight or flight roared into me, and I wasn’t certain why. However, I knew if I was forced onto the helicopter, I’d have zero chance of escaping. I held my breath as he dragged me toward the chopper, whoever was behind the controls starting the engine. When Viper yanked something from his pocket, I bristled.
“Get ready to shove off,” he snarled into the device.
That’s the moment I chose to try to take back whatever little control I had over my life.
And my possible death. Horrible images flashed into my mind.
I slammed my fist against Viper’s chest, able to push away. I didn’t hesitate for a second, running away from him, the pain in my leg hindering my actions.
“For the love of fuck,” he exclaimed.
The adrenaline in overdrive, I raced as fast as I could, going blindly toward another set of trees, the jungle surrounding the area. A part of my mind screamed in admonishment at what I was doing, the other part encouraging me to keep running. Within seconds, I was out of breath, slipping on the damp terrain, finally stumbling forward.
Viper swept me up as if I weighed nothing, yanking me so hard against his chest that I was left breathless.
“That was stupid, Willow. You cost us precious time.”
“Goddamn it, sweetheart. Don’t you see I’m the only person who can keep you alive?”
I continued to fight with him, although jerking free. “All I see is a vigilante prepared to take me to an unknown destination. I’m not stupid.”
“Maybe not but you’re acting like a child. Keep this up and I’ll need to punish you.”
His words made me laugh. “You’re nobody to me.”
“Jesus Christ,” he hissed as he dragged me backwards. “Why do I have to put up with this shit?”
I’d always been a fighter and my instinct forced me to continue. When I managed to jerk free again, I issued a hard punch to his jaw. His expression of incredulousness was followed by another toss of my body over his shoulder as if I weighed nothing.
“Fuck,” he snarled. “That’s it, sweetheart. You no longer have any say in this. I suggest you hold on.”
He raced toward the helicopter but before he could get there, another series of shots was fired. I heard at least one pinging off the metal of the chopper.
“Goddamn it! We need to get the fuck out of here.”
The second voice had to be from the pilot.
Within seconds, I was tossed inside the hulk of the bird, Viper jumping in after me. “Go. Go. Go!” Viper snarled, struggling to close the door. Then he ripped off the goggles he was wearing, swearing for several seconds as he remained close to one of the windows.
Even the whir of the blades couldn’t hide the continuous bullets. I remained crouched on the floor, fighting to breathe as the danger exploded into a firestorm. As the pilot took off, I closed my eyes, curling into a ball. This wasn’t real. This was just a nightmare.
Of course, I’d been telling myself that for the last week. Nothing seemed real any longer.
The pinging sounds finally stopped, the sound of the blades providing some level of comfort.
Viper shook his head, sliding his weapon into a holster I hadn’t noticed before.
“Where the fuck we going, man? I wasn’t hired for this shit,” the pilot growled. I finally noticed his heavy accent, although I could understand his words clearly. Wherever the hell I’d been taken, the natives spoke Spanish. That much had been made clear the first day I’d awakened after being kidnapped. I wanted to laugh, more out of sheer exhaustion than anything.
“Here are the coordinates,” Viper stated. “You drop us there.”
“What about my money? I didn’t get paid enough for the damage.”
“Just get us there and I’ll make certain you have enough.” When Viper turned to face me, I heard the word he muttered under his breath. “Asshole.”
He stood over me for a full minute before moving to one of the seats, his body hitting the cushion with enough noise I cringed. Another full minute passed before he said anything to me.
“I get you have no clue what’s going on, Willow, but the first thing you need to understand and accept is that I’m your sole lifeline. That means you follow my rules no matter what I tell you to do. Anything less will result in discipline.”
My father had teased me more than once that for a girl who followed the rules sometimes to her detriment, I had no appreciation of the people reciting them. This morning was no exception. I gathered up what was left of my strength before jerking to a crouched position, ignoring the agony in my leg.
“You don’t own me. You can’t rule me. I don’t give a shit who you are, until you tell me everything that’s going on, I have no plans on following your orders.”
Given the light streaming in from the windows, I was finally able to get a better look of my savior and my new captor. Goddamn, the man was gorgeous, handsome in a way that stole my breath. He stared at me with the same darkness I’d seen before, but there was so much emotion behind his eyes that I was instantly pushed into another realm, if only for a few seconds. I could swear the man was looking right through me.
I took several shallow breaths as I allowed my gaze to shift from the two-day shadow on his cheeks and chin to the way he clenched the weapon in his hand. I thought I could tell what he was thinking until he opened his mouth, leaning forward until his face was only a few inches from mine.
My hand ached and when I flexed it, Viper leaned forward.
I jerked away.
“I need to look at your hand,” he grumbled.
“Not a chance. As I said, until I get answers, don’t you dare touch me.” The first wave of adrenaline had worn off, allowing a compounding terror to jet through every vein. I found it difficult to breathe, the feeling of having bony fingers wrapped around my throat ever present.
“Willow Cavanaugh, daughter of James and Jennifer Cavanaugh. Your father is a high-powered attorney, your mother the CEO of Cavanaugh Pharmaceuticals. You were set to graduate from the University of California, the Davis location, valedictorian of your class in veterinary medicine. You shared an apartment with three other girls, only one of which you tolerated calling a friend. You initially worked in a bookstore in order to make ends meet, although your parents provided for almost everything other than the full scholarship you received for your time at the university. Then you became a technical assistant for Dr. Abbot, a woman set to retire in a few months. Am I getting warm, sweetheart?”
He kept his voice low enough there was no way the pilot could hear him, but as he unraveled every aspect of my life, I was pulled into a smothering vacuum. “That means nothing. It’s all easy to find on the internet.”
His laugh pissed me off.
“Fine,” he huffed. “While every other student either took the bus and other public forms of transportation, you enjoyed driving your hot red Mercedes convertible. While you haven’t dated in two years, you enjoy going out to various clubs with friends, often using the allowance you’ve told several people you hated in order to provide them with a good time. Your favorite color is red as evidenced by your taste in cars, clothing, and the wine you drink. On the night you were taken from your pristine world, you were heading to your favorite coffee shop for a break. How am I doing now?”
I pressed my hand over my mouth, ugly thoughts racing through my mind. Was my life that fucking transparent?
“Would you like me to continue, Ms. Cavanaugh, or have I said enough to convince you that your only option if you want to survive is to play by my rules?”
“Do you understand I’m the one who was kidnapped, taken to some third world country, where I was kept against my will? Could you possibly relate to the fact I might be out of my mind with fear, refusing to trust the man who suddenly appeared in the mirror, acting as if he was some freaking knight in shining armor?”
He reared back, his nostrils flaring as he shifted his head from side to side, his eyes never leaving me. “What I know is that you’re a spoiled brat who is used to getting her way. Your actions almost got us killed not once but twice. And I’m not the kind of man who will tolerate insolence as your parents obviously did.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Without blinking, he snapped his hand around my wrist, dragging me to my feet, ignoring my slight cries.
“That means, sweetheart, that you need a comprehensive reminder that as of the minute I appeared in that mirror, you were under my command, required to follow my orders. I can see I’ll need to use entirely different methods than utilizing your obvious intelligence.”
There was something so dark and sadistic about the way he was looking at me that sent wave after wave of shivers skittering all the way to my toes. The effect was almost paralyzing, enough so that he’d managed to yank me over his knees, jerking up my dress and ripping my panties all the way to my knees before I reacted.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, struggling with everything I had to get free of his hold. When I almost managed to fling myself to the floor, he cursed under his breath, yanking me back in position.
“I’m giving you what you obviously needed for years. One. Hard. Spanking.”
I remained in shock as he brought his hand down not once but four times, moving from one side to the other. Was this asshole kidding me? He was giving me a spanking? I’d been kidnapped, kept like some perfect doll, told I was everything the fucking King had hoped for. Now this?
“Don’t,” I said so meekly I didn’t even recognize my voice. It was likely the whirring sound of the blades prevented him from hearing me anyway. As I shifted again, determined to get away from the torment, my stomach rolled back and forth across his groin. Holy shit. The man was hard as a rock, his cock throbbing against my tummy. The man was aroused by this? Oh, dear God, no. What if he was some asshole who’d purchased me from the King? I’d overheard the Spanish asshole talking. I’d realized what the man was into, selling women like they were commodities to the highest bidder.
I’d even heard the son of a bitch talking about grooming me with one of the girls who’d supplied food. Was Viper just a part of some dirty game? I continued wiggling until he was forced to shove his leg around mine, pinning me so tightly against his legs that his shaft throbbed against my skin. The spanking continued and the worst part was that after a few minutes, I was completely turned on, my body betraying me.
I was wet, my nipples aching, every muscle tense. Even my mouth was watering with ridiculous, sinful thoughts, a hunger like I’d never known crushing all sense of rationality. Panting, stars floated in front of my eyes from both the intolerable pain as well as the sense of humiliation. All the pilot had to do was take a single glance behind him to see my naked bottom on display.
How could Viper do this to me? Because he was a true asshole. The fact he knew so much about me continued to drive my mind to a dark place. I’d read enough books, seen enough movies and newscasts to know that as soon as an individual appeared on the internet, their footprint would be there forever. But being spot on about my favorite color? That had to be a guess.
Viper brought his hand down with enough force I couldn’t stop from moaning. Pain turned into anguish tearing through me, yet my pussy was wet enough I’d likely left a stain on his cargo pants. Every time I wiggled just a little, the friction was enough I was almost pitched into a mind-blowing orgasm.
Even over the roaring sound, I could hear his rapid breathing and the second he stopped the round of discipline, taking time to caress my heated and aching bottom, I was driven straight to the unthinkable. I wanted to beg him to touch me, to relieve the building pressure.
He said nothing as his finger came dangerously close to my pussy lips, enough so I realized only too late I’d bucked against him. When I couldn’t hold back a moan, I was mortified that this man had been able to get to me. The bastard said nothing as he brushed the rough pad of a single finger back and forth across the tender section of my inner thigh.
My eyes remained closed, naughty visions in vibrant colors keeping me electrified.
“Are you going to be a good girl?” he growled.
“I am a good girl.”
He laughed then resumed the spanking, moving his hand swiftly from one side to the other. I couldn’t believe the discomfort could feel any worse, but as the scent of my desire wafted between us, the slice of embarrassment turned into a full-blown wave. Heat exploded across my neck and cheeks, a lump forming in my throat. I didn’t care who this man was or if he managed to bring me home, I would report his behavior to the highest officials.
“We’ll see about that. Four more.”
He doled them out slowly, every crack of his hand harder than the one before. By the time he was finished, I was ready to claw out his eyes. The man took his sweet time tugging my panties back into place, finally lowered the ugly dress I’d been told to wear.
I jumped off his lap quickly, tumbling to the hard metal surface of the helicopter’s floor.
After a few seconds, he pointed to one of the other seats, giving me a stern look when I didn’t respond right away.
“Put your seatbelt on in case our landing is difficult.”
The deep baritone of his voice continued to send shivers into every muscle and cell. It was obvious he was used to getting what he wanted, but he also had the social graces of a monkey. I did as he requested, settling myself in the seat and refusing to wince from the ache in my buttocks. After buckling the seatbelt, I shifted my attention out the window. The pilot was flying just above the trees. Was the man unafraid of crashing?
Viper seemed to notice my gaze, taking a deep breath. “He’s staying under the radar.”
“Of the man you rescued me from?” I gave him a sideways look, dropping my gaze when all he did was nod. “Who are you? What’s the name of the organization you work for?” His single quick glance toward the pilot gave me an indication he had no intentions of talking about specifics in front of the man.
The pilot had been hired to do a job and nothing else. Where was Viper’s backup? I certainly had no understanding of military or government actions, but his behavior screamed of very diligent training, yet neither his attire nor anything else about him allowed for a clear indication of a branch of the military he was with.
We sat in silence for at least an hour, maybe more, additional morning light filtering in through the windows. That allowed me to take an even better look at my savior. Even though his clothes were dark, his shirt was soaked with blood. From soldiers. From a predatory beast. His face was covered in muck and dried blood as well, but it wasn’t able to hide the scar leading from just underneath his right eye down his sculpted cheek. It added to his character and sexiness, which continued to be a ridiculous thought.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“A safe destination.”
Of course he wasn’t going to tell me.
“Ten minutes until the destination,” the pilot yelled from the front.
Viper made no acknowledgement to the man, but he did yank his weapon back into his hand, pulling additional ammunition from a pocket, his eyes never leaving me as he reloaded the gun. I shivered once again from the action he was taking, looking away as my stomach continued to ache.
I peered down at my bruised and swollen feet, never realizing how many scratches I’d gotten. As I stared at the wrap, flexing my hand, the pain was more intense. Without looking in Viper’s direction, I unwrapped the makeshift bandage, peering at the wound. The scrapes were deep, at least one gouge likely to become infected.
“We’ll take care of that when we arrive at our destiny.”
At least his tone was softer than before, although what little I knew about the man indicated he could flip a switch, becoming a killer instantly. I took a deep breath, holding it as the sound of the engine changed.
Immediately, Viper tensed, moving toward the pilot and speaking Spanish. While I’d had three years of the language in high school, and had tried to practice while in veterinary school, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.
I huddled in the seat, trying to remember everything the King had told me over the last few days. While I wasn’t certain it would come in handy, I’d been taken for a significant reason, and I was determined to find out what that was. The helicopter continued to fly lower, the terrain entirely different than the jungle. I was shocked seeing skyscrapers and mountains in the distance. In trying to figure out where I’d been taken, nothing had given me a clue other than the accents.
Now I realized I had to be in South America. My stomach was full of knots, my mind spinning. My abduction didn’t make any sense. None. Was my kidnapping personal in nature? If so, why? The single reason I could think of was ransom, but my mother and father’s wealth was neither celebrated nor flaunted, at least to the best of my knowledge.
“Where was I kept?” I asked.
Viper thought about my question before answering. “Brazil.”
I was right.
As the pilot finally touched down in what appeared to be a parking lot of a group of buildings, I clenched my fists together. I didn’t like not knowing anything about what was going on. The two of them spoke in Spanish again, the conversation heated toward the end.
Then the pilot flicked his hand as if flipping Viper off. Almost instantly my savior wrapped his hand around his weapon.
“Don’t,” I said without thinking.
He slowly turned his head, narrowing his eyes. Then he opened the door, giving me a look that clearly indicated I needed to wait until he scanned the area. Then he grabbed his goggles, wrapping the strap around his neck before taking my hand.
All I needed was a harsh look from him to know that I shouldn’t say a single word. He helped me jump off the bird, pulling both of us away and allowing the pilot to take off. I should have known he’d remain quiet, his fingers intertwined with mine as he dragged me across the parking lot, constantly searching the perimeter.
“Please tell me where we’re going and where we are? Please. This is Venezuela, isn’t it? I was taken because of some sex trade operation? Or is this about ransom? You seem to know everything about my damn life, so I assume you know this as well. Unless you’re nothing but some crazed bounty hunter or worse, the man who purchased me from the great King.”
He threw me a hard glance, his gaze sweeping up and down. For a brief second, I thought he might actually give a damn that I was suffering not only physically but emotionally as well.
I wasn’t certain my imploring voice meant anything to him, but when we’d shifted into a bank of colorful midrise buildings, he shifted me into what was little more than a small alley between two. Cautious as usual, he checked to ensure that no one was in close proximity before saying a damn word.
“For a woman in captivity, you certainly seem to have a decent hold on your surroundings and possible outcome of your incarceration.”
“Just what in the hell is that supposed to mean? That I was in on this? That I planned my goddamn attack?” I’d never been the kind of woman to react without thinking, but at that moment, I wasn’t the same girl as I’d been two weeks before. So I slapped him hard across the face. “How dare you assume anything about me because you read some dossier compiled by my parents or the internet? I’ll repeat. You know shit about me.”
I was shocked the force I’d used was enough his head jerked to the right. After a few seconds, he backed me against the side of the building, planting his hands on either side of me. As he leaned over, I realized just how massive his body was. I wasn’t a short girl by any means at five foot nine, but the stunning man was at least six foot four, two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle. With the way he was standing, I was able to see more of his perfectly sculpted arms, black ink covering both, vines drifting into the fingers of one.
“I will assume the people I work for ruled out the possibility you were a party to this international situation that has dozens of people on edge. It would seem your parents are very influential, which is the very reason I’m here. While the assumption on the part of my superiors is that your abduction was all about money, given the man who kidnapped you, I’d say he had something more nefarious in mind.”
If the man was trying to terrify me, he was doing a damn good job and he knew it too, the look in his eyes just as nasty as I’d seen on the helicopter. “Why me? Did you ever think of that? Why not grab some girl off the street who didn’t have a powerful family with enough money to hire a mysterious, disgruntled, nasty ex-soldier likely from the Marines in order to bring me to safety? Don’t you find that curious at all?”
He narrowed his hooded eyes, his lips curling into a sneer. My crazy mind was active again, wondering what it would be like to kiss his soft lips. There was no doubt the man was trying to intimidate me, and I refused to look away. The few seconds shared between us were explosive, leaving me tingling all over. He dared to lower his head another two inches, our lips almost touching. I was tempted to slide my tongue across the seam of his mouth, fulfilling a strange but powerful desire.
His breathing labored, he emitted a single husky, low growl. The man was nothing but a true predator.
“I don’t care about your theory, Willow. I was hired with one job in mind and phase one has been completed. We are staying through the night to allow some heat to dissipate. Then you’re coming with me to an undisclosed location.”
“Why? Wait a minute. You’re not taking me home?”
“That wasn’t my directive. You’ll learn more on a need-to-know basis. Until then, you’re coming with me and Willow, I won’t take any additional shit. I don’t care who your parents are. They obviously have no clue how to keep you alive.”
He backed away, lifting a single eyebrow.
As he took a deep breath, the same angry eyes shifting to my bare feet, I had no doubt in my mind he was undressing me with his eyes.
If the man thought I’d ever consider sleeping with him, he was out of his mind.
Or maybe I should tell him it would be over my dead body.